Durham County

Durham wants to relieve some of Child Protective Services’ heavy load. Here’s how.

This photo shows Durham’s Health and Human Services Building at 414 E. Main St.
This photo shows Durham’s Health and Human Services Building at 414 E. Main St. mschultz@heraldsun.com

The Durham County Board of Social Services is seeking to increase the number of child welfare social workers to lower caseloads and bring the county in line with state requirements.

The proposal calls for five new social workers to investigate cases of neglect and abuse, and a social work supervisor to “address the shortage of staff found within Child Protective Services,” according to the proposal.

North Carolina statutes require a ratio of 10 cases per worker in Child Protective Services. Recent numbers the Durham Social Services Board reviewed showed that the county had 311 cases with 22 full-time child welfare workers. That number puts Durham’s caseload ratio at 15 children to one worker, well above the state standard.

Because of the stress of Child Protective Services positions, turnover is high. With turnover, the ratio is likely closer to 30 cases per worker, according to papers Durham County Social Services Director Ben Rose presented to the Social Services Board.

Social Services has money in the current fiscal budget to cover the new positions through June 30 – at a cost of $166,430. Social Services would need $504,333 per year to cover the new posts, and is asking the commissioners to consider the request as part of the 2018-2019 fiscal budget. Rose cites the high caseloads and upcoming requirements in a new social services reform bill called Rylan’s Law, as justifications for the request before the budget deliberations begin.

Stress and workload are the chief causes for turnover in Child Protective Services, Rose said. A single case “can be like four cases, depending on what’s involved,” he said. “The workload is difficult and challenging” with employees in the department working morning, days, nights and weekends.“You’re consistently dealing with difficult issues, difficult families, and it takes a toll,” Rose said.

You’re consistently dealing with difficult issues, difficult families, and it takes a toll.”

Ben Rose, Durham County Social Services director

The County Commissioners are scheduled to consider the request at a February work session, said Tara Fikes, chairwoman of the Social Services Board.

County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs, who also is on the Social Services Board, said she did not see any obstacles with the request. “I think that we need to be able to comply with the state standards. ... It seems like it’s a reasonable request to make. I think what’s unfortunate is that this ends up being a cost that has to be borne at the local level,” Jacobs said. Most social services funding is local and federal dollars, with the state providing about 16 percent, she said.

More funding from the state for services should be part of the ongoing discussion about social services reform, Jacobs said. “We’re being asked to comply with these performance measures, but we’re not being given any extra funding,” Jacobs said. “As part of the conversation about social services reform, it’s important that funding be a part of that discussion,” she said.

County Commissioner Heidi Carter said while the process of considering the request is just beginning, “we want to ensure [children] are all safe and well taken care of.” Child Protective Services workers who have to carry large caseloads makes it difficult to walk through all the steps to investigate abuse and neglect, and makes it difficult to follow through in a timely way, Carter said.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1