Following a near-unanimous show of support from the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors Tuesday night, the Lincoln County Department of Social Services will soon receive some much needed relief; in the form of hiring an additional social worker to the current 3 member case working team.
As explained by department director Renee Krueger there are three existing social workers who are primarily assigned cases involving child abuse and neglect, both as initial assessments (investigations) and ongoing management of CHIPS (Child in Need of Protective Services) cases. The case load the workers face has been on the rise over the last two years according to Krueger.
In 2015 alone, Krueger reports 380 child abuse and neglect referrals were reported to the department. Last year, the numbers climbed to 500; amounting to a 32% increase in referrals alone. As of April of this year, 205 referrals have already been filed which Krueger indicates leads to a projection of well over 600 cases to be filed by year-end. Krueger also noted the importance of considering response times to referrals.
“There are variations in response times to investigate referrals, depending on the information received,” she said.
“Response times range from same-day responses, 24-48 response time windows to 2-5 day windows.”
In addition, Krueger indicated an increase in TPC (Temporary Physical Custody) placements; which are situations where the child needs immediate placement outside of the home.
In 2015, the department handled 33 TPC placements. In 2016 placements reached 52, resulting in a 58% increase. Thus far this year the department has issued 28 placements, which leads to a projection of 84 placements by year-end. Furthermore in 2015, the department handled 7 CHIPS cases. In 2016, the department handled nearly four times as many cases (27). The department has handled 9 already this year, which leads to a projection of tying last year’s mark at 27.
The steadily mounting case load with current staffing levels has led to an overflow of case work interrupting other responsibilities for workers, according to Krueger.
As a result of re-structuring last year, the department assigned a social worker to the responsibility of overseeing out-of-home care aka ‘Foster Care’ licensing, due to the state requirement of utilizing SAFE (Structured Analysis Family Evaluation) home study process; which is an extensive procedure requiring advanced interviewing techniques and training. The worker is not only responsible for foster home care licensing, but also kinship care licensing, voluntary child welfare services, Child Protective Services (CPS) investigations and child care licensing. However due to the soaring number of cases pouring into the department, the worker is assigned 2-4 investigations at any given time, in addition to her licensure responsibilities.
“Foster care recruitment needs to be a priority for Lincoln County at this time,” Krueger added.
“Due to the limited amount of homes available not only here in Lincoln County, but in neighboring counties as well.”
By adding fourth worker to the team, two staff would be dedicated to incoming investigations while two other workers would be assigned to ongoing CHIPS cases.
“This will allow for dedication to the management of ongoing cases with the expectation of the number of out-of-home placements to decrease,” she explained.
“Currently, social workers are frequently responding to safety crises and engagement, at the cost of attention to ongoing cases being sacrificed. In addition, this position will reduce the CPS responsibilities for the worker who is assigned youth justice (delinquency) services, The position comes with a salary and benefit package of an estimated $71,996 annually. Krueger asked the board Tuesday for full funding for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, while funding for FY 2017 would be offset by In-Home Safety Services funding, which is accessible for eligible cases if case workers are able to complete necessary documentation and services.
“We currently have eligible cases,” Krueger said.
“But social workers are unable to designate the time required to provide necessary services due to the high case load. We feel having a social worker designated to meet the requirements for In-Home Safety Services funding, rather then being pulled to conduct investigations, will increase the level of case management services and reduce out-of-home placement costs.”
During discussion, 1st District Supervisor Bill Bialecki and 12th District Supervisor Paul Gilk spoke in favor of approving the new position; citing the stress level social workers experience due to the nature of the position.
“Aside from law enforcement and fire fighting, being a social worker is one of the most stressful jobs in the county,” Bialecki stated.
“I feel we need to give her the tools she needs to get the job done. If another social worker is what she needs, I say we give it to her.”
“Ah there’s a lot of jobs that are stressful!” argued 9th District Supervisor Bill Zeitz.
“This is a slippery slope in financial terms, so I am going to vote against this,”
The board ultimately approved the position via 19-1 vote.
Following the meeting, Krueger indicated the application process to fill the new position would begin within the next week, with a due date for applications in July and ultimately hoping to have the position filled by the fall.
“I am very grateful for the support of the Supervisors, this was an unfortunate but necessary decision.” Krueger said, following the meeting.
“Ultimately, we all want to work together to provide services that keep families in-tact, safe, and supported. The purpose of the Child Welfare System is to keep children safe and to support families to provide safe, permanent, and nurturing homes for children. When our local resources are only able to address the immediate crisis, we are unable to work with families to address root causes for sustainable change.”