Erie County lawmakers are in disagreement over a proposal to hire more Child Protective Services workers that was announced more than a week ago by Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer as a means to ease a burgeoning backlog of cases.
County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, and Legislator Lynne M. Dixon, I-Hamburg, issued a statement Wednesday in which they asserted that the plan to restructure CPS by hiring 18 additional caseworkers and 12 part-time protective services investigators needs to be vetted before the Republican-aligned majority in the Legislature can approve it.
“I support the request for additional caseworkers, but before we approve this proposal, we need to know that the caseworkers are going to receive the support they need to help our most vulnerable residents,” Lorigo said.
He said lawmakers first learned of the proposal when Dankert-Maurer introduced it at a special information meeting June 3 by the Legislature’s Health and Human Resources Committee. Lorigo added that lawmakers were unable to fully review the document before the hearing and, as a result, were unable to formulate questions related to it. Without an opportunity for the Legislature to openly discuss the administration’s proposal before today’s Legislature session at 2 p.m., it is expected that the majority caucus will vote to send the item to committee for further discussion.
Meanwhile, Legislator Patrick B. Burke, a Buffalo Democrat, also issued statement in which he called Dankert-Maurer’s plan a crucial first step toward reducing the heavy caseload among workers in CPS.
“I encourage my colleagues to consider and pass the county executive’s proposal this Thursday and then follow up to make sure the caseload decreases to the recommended 15 cases per investigator,” Burke said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
Despite the state recommendation, CPS caseworkers currently have an average caseload exceeding 50 cases each, according to Dankert-Maurer. Burke said the Legislature needs to act quickly to hire more people.
“It is clear that CPS workers are overworked and underpaid for what we are asking of them,” Burke said.
“Some of my colleagues would like to send this proposal to committee for further deliberation, but we need to take immediate action to decrease these caseloads. Every day that they delay this proposal puts children at further risk,” Burke added.
In a letter to Legislature Chairman John Mills, Dankert-Maurer said delaying approval of her request will result in a pushback of the target date to recruit and hire new workers. She said it takes about six months to train new caseworkers.