DCYF Asks for More
Rhode Island must hire almost 50 social workers at the state’s foster care agency to meet national guidelines. That’s according to testimony today from Patricia Martinez, the director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
She spoke before a state Senate committee investigating how DCYF handles children in foster care. A federal civil rights lawsuit filed this summer alleges that the agency failed to stop the abuse and neglect of some children in its care.
The lawsuit by the state’s child advocate alleges that DCYF social workers are overwhelmed — especially in its Providence office.
A national advocacy group recommends a standard of 14 families per caseworker. Martinez says achieving that goal would require hiring 44 social workers and four more supervisors.
Fifteen new social workers are starting the job in September.
Like it or not, and altruism aside, more workers cost more money. And right now, DCYF hasn’t shown an ability to be able to abide by a budget:
The DCYF is on pace to spend its entire first-quarter child-welfare budget by mid September, agency director Patricia Martinez said yesterday. And a provision passed in the state budget prevents state officials from shifting money to cover the shortfall until the beginning of the second quarter, Oct. 1.
…the situation is also complicated by the Assembly’s decision this year to release the DCYF’s financing in four quarterly payments in an attempt to control department overspending — a control applied only to DCYF this year, according to House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino.
“We were very concerned about overspending in DCYF. Every year they would come to the Assembly for a supplemental request and we’d find out that a half year has gone by and they’ve already blown by their budget,” Costantino said.
Last year, for example, the Assembly approved a $17.9-million supplemental appropriation (including federal dollars) at the end of the session on top of the DCYF’s $293-million budget.
The quarterly allotments, Costantino said, were a safeguard put in place after the Assembly agreed to restore partial financing for services to 18-to-21 year olds in state care, which the governor had proposed cutting. The plan also required the DCYF to redesign its system to save money by improving department inefficiencies.
“There has not been a lack of money for DCYF over the years,” Costantino said. “Unfortunately, it seems that there has to be a major financial crisis to make change.”
Now for some math. In FY 2008, the budget contains the following for Social Caseworkers and Supervisors (dollar values include cost of salary and benefits):
|Chief Casework Supervisor||6||$575,288||$95,881|
|Senior Casework Supervisor||2||$171,742||$85,871|
|Casework Supervisor II||51||$3,791,322||$74,340|
|Social Caseworker II||233||$13,280,321||$56,997|
Adding 44 more Caseworkers–and I’m assuming they would be at the lower, and more numerous, “Social Caseworker II” rate rather than the regular (perhaps grandfathered?) Social Caseworker rate–would cost $2,507,868.
Adding 4 more supervisors–assuming at the CS II rate–would tack on $297,360 for a grand total of $2,805,228 to bring Rhode Island’s DCYF in line with the recommendations of a “national advocacy group.” The result would be $20,684,621 earmarked to personnel costs for caseworkers. One caveat: this is if we use 2008 numbers, not projected (at a what, 4-5% increase per FTE?) 2009 numbers.
Martinez’s request for more caseworkers also helps to determine the current number of DCYF cases. Assuming each caseworker is to have 14 cases and there would be 278 Social Caseworkers, that works out to 3892 cases. I’m not sure if Supervisors also have a distinct caseload over and above those of the caseworkers they manage. Even if they do, that still puts the total caseload at around 4,000.
Like it or not, personnel costs aren’t going down and the bottom line is that DCYF is going to require an additional $3 million. Where is it going to come from? And can we trust DCYF to spend the money wisely? Democrat House Finance Chair Constantino obviously doesn’t and DCYF has done nothing to prove him wrong.
Look, “screwing the youth” isn’t the way to go, but, as I’ve written before, those who are charged with protecting our most vulnerable kids simply have to be more fiscally responsible and get their priorities in order. Kids first, perks second.