Erie County Department of Social Services officials want to hire seven more Child Protective Services caseworkers and add three new senior-level management positions that officials say will allow them to get a better handle on the growing number of alleged abuse and neglect cases facing the county.
Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer made the request for more staff Tuesday during a special meeting of the County Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
Without those new positions, Dankert-Maurer said, CPS will continue to burdened by staffing constraints. The proposed reorganization of CPS is critical, she said, particularly in the wake the beating death last week of a 5-year-old West Side boy, allegedly at the hands of his mother’s live-in boyfriend.
“As you know, we had scheduled this time to present our plan for reorganization within the Department of Social Services a few weeks ago, and we’re here to do that,” Dankert-Maurer told lawmakers.
“However, we also know there has been a tragic death of a child in our community, a death that has shaken us all,” she added.
Neither Eain Clayton Brooks’ name nor the circumstances of his case was invoked during Tuesday’s informational hearing, though charges by his family and neighbors that their complaints to CPS went unheeded clearly increased the urgency of the commissioner’s request.
“We are in the middle of a comprehensive, thorough evaluation of our performance,” Dankert-Maurer said. She noted that, in addition to an ongoing criminal investigation, and one by the state Office of Children Family Services, the Social Services Department also is conducting an internal investigation.
“We have been urging the Office of Children Family Services to complete their investigation as expeditiously as possible. The county executive has already gone on record stating that we will encourage OCFS to make their findings public,” she added.
Dankert-Maurer stressed that a plan to reorganize the management structure of Social Services and add a new team of CPS caseworkers to its roster has been in the works since June.
The plan calls for the addition of seven new positions in CPS, including six Social Caseworker I positions and a Child Protective Coordinator, that would make up a fifth team of caseworkers to add to the four already in existence.
Dankert-Maurer, who was joined by Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe and four senior-level Department of Social Service managers, said turnover is high among CPS caseworkers, in part because of the mounting caseload.
“There are some that have 20, 22 and 27 [cases]. We’re trying to get all of them down to the state-recommended standard of 15,” she said.
If six new caseworkers and a coordinator prove to be inadequate to keep up with demand, she said the administration will approach lawmakers about adding more positions.
The department’s request for three new managers was met with skepticism by some members of Legislature’s Republican minority, who wondered if the qualifications for those positions were stringent enough because they require a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. Dankert-Maurer is seeking new first and second deputy commissioners, as well as a special assistant to the commissioner. The addition of the new manager positions is a critical component of the reorganization, she said.
“I believe it’s a package deal,” Dankert-Maurer said, after Tuesday’s hearing. “In order for me to make those CPS workers successful, we have to change the administrative focus.”
The administration requested that lawmakers take action on its request at the Legislature’s next scheduled meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday.
“When I was here for midyear budget hearings, I made it very clear that this was something I was promoting and wanted to move forward, Dankert-Maurer said. “We got hung up in the summer recess, so I’m already two months behind where I wanted to be.”
Meanwhile, she and Deputy Budget Commissioner Timothy Callan contradicted assertions by county Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw that there are already nine fully funded but unfilled CPS positions in the budget.
“As of today, we actually have 12 vacancies in CPS on the books; seven of those positions have been filled and five are in the process of being filled,” Dankert-Maurer said.