July 10, 2015
July 10, 2015
Prior to the 2015 legislative session—and then throughout it—VSEA frontline DCF Family Services Division employees were at the State House often to testify to lawmakers about how insufficient staffing levels were adversely impacting the Division’s ability to keep up with an unfortunate increase in the number of Vermont children needing protection from abuse and neglect. Their efforts were rewarded with the addition of 18 new social worker positions, and, according to a July 1VPR story, initially, the positions helped, but, sadly, demand for service is once again far outweighing DCF’s Family Services Division’s ability to respond as the employees think they should.
Commenting to VPR on a new DCF report titled the “2014 Report on Child Protection in Vermont.” DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz said “When those 18 social workers were retained, we did see our caseload drop per social worker. But then the increasing number of children coming into custody drove that back up so that now, in fact, our social workers have a higher caseload than [before] when we did initially add the 18.” The report cites an increase in reports of child abuse and neglect as a primary reason why caseloads grew so much.
Schatz’s introduction to the report echoes what thousands of frontline state employees have been telling lawmakers and the public for years, which is you can’t keep cutting services to the bone at a time when more Vermonters than ever are requiring the same services being cut.
“The data shows that many Vermont families are struggling,” Schatz writes. “Last year, we received a record number of child abuse and neglect reports and substance abuse was a factor in about one-third of them. Since the beginning of 2014, the number of children in DCF custody has increased by nearly 33 percent–an increase that was most startling for children under the age of six (68 percent).”
Schatz’s report also says “the number of reports to the state’s Child Protection Line reached a record 19,288 last year, up more than 10 percent from 17,460 in 2013. While that number isn’t necessarily indicative of increases in the number of abuse cases, it shows more Vermonters are going to DCF with concerns.”
Frontline DCF Family Services Division employees have told VSEA they are fully aware of the report’s findings, as they live the reality daily. They say they are continuing to work with management to address their burgeoning caseloads through the labor/management committee process, and, like Schatz, many say they are very concerned about the marked increase in reporting and they want to see the situation addressed in a timely and adequate fashion.
“The spotlight was on us, so we did get some welcome help this session from legislators,” explains one DCF worker to WIA. “But, like the report says, the demand continues to far outweigh the resources, and we all know that the imbalance is jeopardizing the health and well being of Vermont’s children. It’s time to fix this problem, once and for all.”
WIA will keep readers updated on any developments related to this story.
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