The House chairwoman of the legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee wants to know when the Department of Children and Families will correct the overburdened caseloads of the social workers responsible for getting care for the thousands of abused children in state custody.
The agency’s court-appointed federal monitor has been pointing to the problem for nearly a year, and foster children shared their experiences with lawmakers and department staff during a forum at the state Capitol complex last month.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget provides no funding for additional social workers for DCF. The millions of dollars the department has saved from decreasing the number of children living in group homes or being sent out-of-state are mostly funneled to other areas of the state budget.
“I should have seen something in that regard, I think,” said Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.
“The savings, I think, should be reinvested in giving you the people that are necessary to actually make sure the services we are doing are there and the people are there,” Walker said to DCF Commissioner Joette Katz during a budget hearing Friday.
“Because, as you heard when we talked with kids in foster care, many of them said sometimes they did not see their workers very often…. I would like to know where are the plans for increasing the caseworkers so the kids get the services?” Walker asked.
Since January 2011, DCF has had a 29 percent reduction in caseload-carrying social workers, a reduction of 398 front-line staff members. And agencywide, the department has had a net drop of 326 staff members — which includes social workers and other positions — since fiscal 2011, a 9 percent drop.
This means that many of the children in state custody experience delays in receiving the educational, medical and psychological services they need, the department’s federal monitor, Raymond Mancuso, has reported.
Several of the 55 children whose cases he reviewed last quarter, for example, needed counseling but faced delays in getting appointments. Another child needed eyeglasses but didn’t receive them.
Of the 55 cases Mancuso reviewed from July through September, 18 children did not have all of their “priority” needs met. Broken down by specific needs (i.e. educational screenings, placement in a group home, getting a doctor’s appointment, etc.), the 55 children collectively had 215 unmet needs.
“The situation has worsened,” Mancuso wrote in his most recent quarterly report, released last month. “Even extraordinary efforts by social workers and social work supervisors cannot compensate for the system-level problems that persist.”
DCF has been under federal court supervision for more than two decades following the “Juan F” class-action lawsuit filed in 1989 that documented the state’s failure to adequately care for abused and neglected children.
Department leaders told Walker they would let her know how they plan to tackle the caseload issue.
While the agency’s recent reforms have led to fewer investigations taking place for non-serious allegations and fewer children ending up in state custody, Katz told the budget committee that the result of diverting less-severe cases to nonprofit providers has meant that caseworkers’ caseloads are all difficult and demanding.
The 11 to 15 children each social worker is responsible for used to require three to eight hours of care a month. The same number of children now requires an average of 12 to 14 hours of care.