Durham County's Child Welfare Division is adding more staff to keep up with heavy workloads and increasingly complicated cases.
Department of Social Services director Ben Rose says the six additional positions are needed to address "critical staffing needs" and keep the division in-line with state limits on how many cases each social worker should have.
Rose told Durham County commissioners last week that turnover is the primary reason Child Protective Services employees have such heavy workloads — and heavy workloads are the main driver behind employees leaving.
At full staffing levels, each case worker has fourteen cases — above the state standard of ten cases per employee. But. Rose said, "we’ve never quite had" a full staff. Taking the high rate of turnover into account, Rose says the number is probably closer to thirty cases per employee or more. There are 311 open cases, according to the department.
"This standard was adopted by the state as part of a concern that workers were carrying a high caseload and creating gaps in services, placing children at risk, " Rose wrote in a letter to the commissioners
. "Therefore, we are potentially placing children at risk due to the overwhelming caseload size currently being experienced. If a fatality with an open case was to occur, this is an area that the state will first assess."
The county also has to meet certain performance measures required as part of House Bill 630, also known as Rylan's law, which was passed last summer. The bill is named for a Carthage boy who drowned after being returned to the care of his mother, who was facing a misdemeanor child abuse charge at the time. The law requires social services employees to observe children with their parents on multiple occasions before returning them to their parents' custody. Not meeting safety, permanence, and well-being measures outlined by the law could jeopardize funding.
Rose said the pressure on staff is not due to an increase in the number of reports coming in to Child Protective Services. That number has actually dipped — Child Protective Services investigated 1,236 reports (each of which could include multiple children) in the 2016-17 year. That's down from 1,465 the year before and 1,840 the year before that — but Rose says the cases are more complex than they used to be and require more time.
"The reports in the old days used to be just a dirty house," Rose told the INDY
. "Now it's mental health, substance abuse and a dirty house."
The additional positions (five child welfare investigators and one supervisor) don't require any additional money from the county this fiscal year, but social services will need an additional $593,000 in next year's budget to maintain them. Commissioners approved the change as part of their consent agenda Monday night.
"This request is to start the process of reaching a better place within Child Protective Services to enhance the safety and well-being of the Children in Durham County," Rose wrote. "Child Welfare is a business of human capital and it takes trained staff to develop the services required."