• Wed. Oct 20th, 2021

Workforce crisis threatens local child protection work

By Jane Prendergast

Hamilton County Job and Family Services

Hamilton County Job and Family Services faces a critical workforce emergency that requires immediate attention to keep children safe.

The impacts of the pandemic include a nationwide employee shortage across most occupations, including JFS. Most concerning, this is adversely impacting Children’s Services front-line caseworkers whose primary job is to assess and ensure child safety. The agency is not getting enough new applicants for these positions. As a result, caseworkers are facing especially high caseloads, leading to further departures, making the situation worse.

To address this workforce emergency, JFS today announces increases of up to 25 percent for targeted Children’s Services positions.

“All staff members are respected and valued for their contributions,” said Amy Story, interim director. “But this is an emergency requiring immediate attention for our front-line Children’s Services caseworkers. We must ensure these positions remain competitively paid leading to more applicants and hopeful new hires, while retaining veteran staff. The community, Hamilton County residents, depend on these staff to protect children and support families.”

These salary increases will bring JFS caseworkers closer to industry norms, allowing us to be more competitive in hiring. The money to do this comes from current sources – local, state and federal funds.

The targeted raises come in addition to other initiatives the agency started to boost recruitment. JFS leaders are attending more college career fairs. They have expanded their job advertising. They continue to improve the on-boarding process for new workers, including using a virtual reality experience to determine if the agency is the right job match. Soon, JFS will launch a recruitment campaign that highlights caseworkers and the many reasons they love their work.

Until their numbers grow, JFS will use other strategies to continue protecting children and supporting families, including voluntary staff reassignments, overtime for key roles and adjusted work schedules.

Children’s Services is well positioned to continue introducing innovative and preventive services in Hamilton County. To do that, the agency must have sufficient staff first to cover its mandated services, Story said.

“Our staff literally works around the clock to ensure we respond timely to all reports of child maltreatment and stay available to support families,” said Margie Weaver, Director of Children’s Services. “We’ve shifted resources to prioritize our most critical responsibilities related to child safety; our staff routinely works overtime. Still, workloads are high, well above the recommended levels. We need more staff to do this very important work in our community.”

Waver continued, “We believe all children deserve to grow up in families. That’s the result we’re trying to achieve as we participate in the most significant reform to federal child welfare policy in decades – the Family First Prevention Services Act. It went into effect October 1 and prioritizes prevention services that keep children safely at home or in alternate family settings. It aims to reduce reliance on group care settings and puts a new emphasis on kin and family foster homes.’’

The Board of Hamilton County Commissioners and the County Administrator support immediate action to address the workforce emergency. The Tax Levy Review Committee also recommended actions to decrease vacancies and stabilize the workforce. Each group made clear that the situation is critical; delay in taking strategic action will negatively impact children and families in Hamilton County.

According to agency information, the agency served more than 17,500 children last year and 8,250 families. Workers answered almost 48,000 calls to our around-the-clock 241-KIDS child abuse hotline and investigated more than 9,200 allegations of abuse and neglect.

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