Durham County’s Department of Social Services will be getting more positions to help lower caseloads of social workers in its Child Welfare Division.
During a Thursday, Feb. 8 work session, the Board of County Commissioners placed the department’s request on the consent agenda for its regular meeting for Monday, Feb. 12. Consent agenda items can be approved without further debate.
Social Services Director Ben Rose said the funding will put the caseloads for child care social workers more in line with state rules, and help with turnover in the division.
The proposal would give the department five new social workers to investigate cases of neglect and abuse. It also would add a social work supervisor to “address the shortage of staff found within Child Protective Services,” according to the proposal released in December.
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 each social worker, well above the state standard, Rose said.
Because of the stress of Child Protective Services positions, turnover is high. With turnover, some workers are carrying as many as 20 or 30 cases, Rose said. The department receives about 3,000 reports of abuse or neglect a year, but not all are validated, Rose told the board. “These are the individuals who will go out and assess the reports we get,” Rose said.
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 that funding as part of the 2018-2019 fiscal budget. Rose cited 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.
The commissioners praised Rose for the details in his presentation. “I feel so comfortable with this, I’d be willing to go with it today, before you present it,” said Commissioner Ellen Reckhow. “You’ve done some great background.”
Rose included his department’s five-year strategic plan in his presentation to the commissioners. Goals include lowering the number of cases for Child Protective Services workers, and anticipating Rylan’s Law, or House Bill 630, also known as the social services reform law, which the state Legislature approved last session.
The social services reform law includes child welfare reforms “that put additional requirements and performance measures on Child Welfare. Failure to meet performance measures can result in loss of funding and state assumption of services,” according to the strategic plan.
The reform law also calls for establishing regional social services offices to supervise county social services departments. An 18-member working group is now meeting to make recommendations about those regional offices to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The group must report with recommendations April 15 and Feb. 1, 2019.
Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton is a member of the working group. Angie Stephenson represents Orange and Chatham counties on the group as a member of the North Carolina Association of Social Services Attorneys.