Union: Caseworker shortage undermines Children Services’ reforms

Montgomery County’s refusal to fill many open caseworker positions will undermine proposed reforms aimed at improving child abuse and neglect investigations, the union representing local Children Services caseworkers said Wednesday.

Professionals Guild of Ohio Council 12 President Jane Hay said Montgomery County currently has 37 vacant bargaining unit positions, including 20 caseworker jobs, out of its workforce of about 270.

RELATED: Takoda Collins death: State reviews ‘alternative response’ cases

“All of our workers right now are kind of stretched to their limit and until they hire more workers, I can’t see where any of this is going to do any good,” she said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News. “If we don’t have the workers, we can’t do the extra work to keep kids safe.”

Hay said she supports the reforms announced this week by Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. in response to several recent tragedies. Those changes include making child abuse and neglect investigations more thorough, and increasing communication with the prosecutor’s office, police, schools and mandated reporters.

INVESTIGATION: Police: Children Services placed 2 kids with sex-case suspects

“The workers here do all they can to keep kids safe and they will continue to, and I’m sure they are willing to institute any kinds of new measures to keep kids safe in our community,” she said. “It is going to add more work or more steps to an already stressed workforce.”

Montgomery County Children Services spokesman Kevin Lavoie said there are actually 22 vacant caseworker positions right now.

“Currently, the average caseload per caseworker is 14,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “At the end of 2019, we compared very favorable to other Ohio counties with regards to caseload. We fill positions based on caseload demand and budgetary constraints, and are currently in the hiring process for several of these open positions.”

Caseloads for some have reached more than 20 in recent months, Hay said, due to workers handling cases for others when they take off on leave. She said the county has held back on hiring since the union went out on strike last year over pay raises.

National recommendations for caseloads call for eight to 10 cases for workers doing investigations, said officials from the Public Children Services Association of Ohio in an interview earlier this year. The agency said most children services agencies in Ohio struggle to hire and retain caseworkers.

READ MORE: Report: Dayton woman accused in baby’s death previously investigated for leaving kids alone

Heck said in an interview Wednesday that he realizes his proposals would create more work for his office, police and caseworkers.

“It is something we’re going to have to do. I think it’s important and these children deserve that,” he said.

Heck added an additional attorney to his child protection unit before the coronavirus, bringing the total to seven. His office has no control over Children Services staffing — the agency reports to the Montgomery County commissioners — but Heck said he’s willing to work with the union if there’s any way he can help.

County Commission President Judy Dodge didn’t respond to the union’s staffing concerns, but issued a statement Wednesday on Heck’s proposals.

READ MORE: Children Services needs external ombudsman, group says

“Montgomery County welcomes oversight from our regulatory agencies and partners, and many of these recommendations have already been put into practice,” she said. “We will continue to work to improve our child protection services so that we can help keep children and families safe.”

Heck's proposals came after the Dayton Daily News has reported on tragedies such as the death of 10-year-old Takoda Collins in December after multiple reports of concerns that he was being abused, the death of a baby after a Children Services investigation that Gov. Mike Dewine has criticized as insufficient, and the placement of a child in a home with two people previously accused of sex offenses.

Hay said she doesn’t believe the staffing shortages contributed to those cases “as the decision to screen in a case, or to close a case or where to place a child rests finally with a supervisor or manager and those positions have been kept fully staffed.”

But she said the staffing shortage puts children at risk.

“Any time you are short-staffed, for long periods of time, the remaining workers are stretched thin, trying to do more with less and (that) leaves the door open for a greater chance of error,” Hay said.

Dayton Daily News Investigates

Our reporters are holding accountable area agencies tasked with keeping children safe from abuse or neglect, and investigating whether their actions are protecting children. Your subscription makes this coverage possible.

About the Authors