Why did it take so long? That was the main question I felt was surrounding the recent Legislature hearing with the Department of Social Services commissioner, who also oversees the county’s Child Protective Services division. The issues within CPS have not been properly responded to in the past, and with the timing of the new staffing plan, I question why the department has been so slow to respond.
After so many tragedies, failures within DSS and loss of innocent, young lives, and failed attempts by the department to handle its caseload, a hearing was held by the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee to directly ask the commissioner questions, get answers and start the process of finding a solution. That hearing brought to light a lot of concerns with the operation of this critical department.
Just months before I was elected, the Legislature was presented a plan in fall of 2013 to add seven caseworkers and three upper management positions. At the time, legislators were told that those additional caseworkers were enough to help solve the caseloads. The commissioner even stated those few new caseworkers would fill the need within the department. She’s quoted as saying, “This plan will give the Department of Social Services the needed capacity to address the sources of these increases, and will benefit both taxpayers and the families that DSS assists.”
We are learning now that seven caseworkers weren’t even close to the number of workers we need to handle the workload. Buffalo was just ranked the fourth poorest city in the country, and we know with poverty comes increased child abuse and domestic violence. We need caseworkers to help our residents in need.
The administration was told nine months ago by legislators that funding should be spent on more caseworkers, not management. We now know that adding just seven caseworkers was a complete underestimate. The department has readjusted its plan and is asking for 24 caseworkers and 12 part-time employees.
New York State’s maximum recommended case levels is 15 per worker. In Erie County, the commissioner has testified that the average is 50 cases, with some workers seeing upwards of 100. I was shocked when I heard the commissioner confess this. Why did it take so long if the department was so significantly above state maximum level? This is a serious matter.
What disappoints me the most is that until the commissioner’s resignation was called for, we didn’t see any proposals for additional workers. What is going on in that department?
Following the hearing, I am not in support of Carol Dankert-Maurer remaining as the commissioner. She has had five years to bring changes to the department, and she has failed to do so.
I believe the report presented and request for new caseworkers warrants a complete discussion and review as the Legislature is willing to assist the county’s employees with their mission to serve the residents in need.
We need to make sure that the steps we are taking are appropriate and will provide the best results.