Reforms enable department to better identify child victims of abuse or neglect
The Erie County Department of Social Services' ("ECDSS") monthly report to the Erie County Legislature for August indicates the average child protective worker caseload has dipped below 15, the state-recommended maximum. Currently, two-thirds of Child Protective Services' employees have 15 cases or fewer and 95 percent have 25 cases or less. The average caseload was last below 15 in September 2013, prior to an audit by the New York State Office of Child and Family Services that triggered changes in the Child Protective Unit.
"Although our Child Protective Unit still has work to do, we have reached a critical benchmark by returning to an average caseload that is below the state-recommended maximum," said Department of Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger, Ph.D. "I want to commend our front-line employees for their hard work and tenacious efforts. I also want to credit our dedicated administrative team for putting together a smart plan to reduce caseloads, and following that plan despite any criticism or setbacks."
The report shows there were 1,577 child protective investigations at the end of August, down from a high of nearly 5,000. Following the OCFS audit in the fall of 2013, caseloads began to steadily drop by June 2014 after County Executive Mark Poloncarz requested and received legislature approval for a plan to augment the Child Protective Until with three new CPS teams and a new team of employees with law enforcement experience.
In addition to the decrease in caseload size, there has been a marked increase in the quality of casework being performed by child protective workers. The percentage of CPS cases that are indicated, meaning there is some credible evidence found supporting the allegation, has risen from approximately 30 percent in 2013 to nearly 35 percent today. Department officials credit the increase to more robust investigations and enhanced partnerships with community stakeholders.
"As a result of more investigations uncovering abuse and neglect, these families are now receiving the assistance they may not have received otherwise," Dirschberger said. "We expect this will ultimately help families as we can address the issues causing their families' hardship. Our department will continue to identify ways to strengthen our investigations so we can help families with needs."
Under the leadership of the Poloncarz administration, Erie County has embarked on a long-term course of action to proactively address the issues of child abuse, neglect and poverty in the community. In addition to the addition of new personnel in 2014, the department has pioneered partnerships with hospitals and school districts to station CPS workers at their facilities. The department has also contracted with mental health and domestic violence agencies to co-locate expert clinical staff within the Child Protective Unit.
The Poloncarz administration also authored and presented 19 reform proposals, two of which have been adopted by the State Legislature and signed into law. The 19 reforms fall into five categories: increasing CPS powers to help children; improving the quality of reporting to the statewide central register ("SCR"); punishing abusers and protecting children; modernizing the child welfare system; and other critical reforms.
For more information on the Erie County Department of Social Services, visit http://www2.erie.gov/socialservices/.