Children Services short caseworkers due to pandemic, ‘massive turnover’

Virtual job fair this week for scarce child welfare workers

Montgomery County Children Services will host an online hiring event this week to attract new caseworkers to an agency that remains fraught with continual departures from jobs that are difficult under normal circumstances.

“We’ve had massive turnover since 2019. That still has been part of the problem on top of the pandemic,” said Mason Montgomery, president of the union that represents caseworkers and other Children Services workers.

ExploreUnion: Caseworker shortage undermines Children Services’ reforms

Both the union, the Professionals Guild of Ohio Council 12, and the Children Services administration are working in tandem to try to get “more hands on deck,” Montgomery said.

“We’ve definitely come together,” he said. “We just want to tackle this. We all see the need and want to do what we can to make sure we get the right people and help to protect the families and the kids.”

Virtual interviews for child welfare workers will be on Wednesday and Thursday. The county currently has about five openings for its Intake Department and is also looking to hire positions that oversee ongoing child abuse and neglect cases as well as foster care licensing and other jobs. Pay for the positions ranges from $19.60 to $28.92 an hour based on experience, according to the county.

Candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree or higher in social work or a related field and have a minimum of one-year experience in social work or a field placement in social work, according to the county.

The county has 177 caseworker positions budgeted but just 152 are currently filled, according to Children Services.

“While it is meaningful and rewarding, child welfare is extremely challenging work that can lead to burnout even under the best of circumstances,” said Debby Shaw, Children Services interim assistant director.

Montgomery said the county has posted for three to five positions on a weekly basis but has had continual difficulty attracting enough qualified individuals to meet immediate needs but to also fill long-vacant positions.

“Twenty would be a really good number to get right now,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just internal musical chairs. We want to get new people hired, not just replacements.”

Last September, Montgomery County and PGO agreed to a three-year contract in the wake of an impasse, a 2019 strike and court case. But concerns over caseloads and unfilled positions persisted with the county promising to step up hiring.

Yet attracting new employees has only gotten tougher during the pandemic, Shaw said.

“COVID-19 has affected recruitment across the country and hit child welfare especially hard,” she said. “Staff shortages for pandemic-related reasons impacted day-to-day staffing levels leading to increased workloads, retirements and resignations.”

Beginning 2020 with 321 employees across the entire division, 38 Children Services employees either left their jobs voluntarily, were terminated or retired, but only 25 were hired last year, according to county employment records.

ExploreMontgomery County, Children Services union sign contract after year of turmoil

The pandemic has also stalled traditional recruitment fairs at universities, hampering the ability to meet with graduating seniors. Opportunities to get hands-on social work experience while still in school have also been limited, Shaw said.

“Field placements that have often created the opportunity for our agency to hire qualified staff were less available due to the pandemic, leading to fewer candidates available to move into vacant positions as a natural progression,” she said.

At the end of 2020, Children Services was handling more than 1,500 child abuse and neglect cases representing nearly 2,500 children and more than 1,350 related adults; 618 kids were in foster care. The agency made 3,957 abuse and neglect investigations last year, according to Children Services.

ExploreChildren Services outlines changes to policies, staff structure

The pandemic placed another layer of anxiety upon those still doing the job, Montgomery said.

About 75% of Children Services staff have been quarantined or contracted COVID-19. Some people, including Montgomery, have been in quarantine multiple times. One Children Services employee, who was not a caseworker, died from the virus, Montgomery said.

Caseworkers were instructed to return to in-person visits beginning this month, heightening concern. And it wasn’t until last week that county Job and Family Services employees became eligible for vaccinations. But many remain unvaccinated and on waiting lists, Montgomery said.

Ashley Schmitz, Montgomery County talent and acquisition manager, said the open Children Services positions are full-time with competitive pay, benefits and importantly, leave time.

“We believe having work/life balance is important for all employees,” she said.

Montgomery County Commissioner Carolyn Rice said she hopes anyone interested in child welfare casework will sign up for one of the sessions.

“This is working with our precious little ones in the community and their families,” she said. “It’s just a critical, critical position.”

How to attend Montgomery County Children Services virtual job fair

Individuals can sign up for preferred interview time during these two sessions:

Wednesday, March 10, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Thursday, March 11, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Registration is available online at http://bit.ly/MCChildrensServices. Applicants must have a device with a camera and reliable internet connection. After registration, applicants will receive a confirmation email prior to the event with a Microsoft Teams link to their preferred session.

Applicants with further questions should contact Ashley Schmitz at schmitza@mcohio.org or by calling (937) 225-6448.

In Other News