Report says CPS workload leaves kids neglected

"As Child Protective Services struggles against a drain of skilled social workers and an overwhelming workload, children chronically neglected in their homes are also being neglected by the state.The state Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman criticized the state agency in a recent report, saying CPS does too little to respond to neglected children.Our basic message is we think the whole child protection system has been developed to deal with mainly abuse - physical abuse and sexual abuse - and not developed to deal effectively with chronic neglect, said OFCO spokeswoman Vickie Wallen.It's not an easy question because with neglect, unlike abuse, you don't have bruises. We have to figure out a better way to deal with these cases because kids are being abused, she added.Twenty Kitsap-based Child Protective Services workers investigated 3,527 child abuse cases in 1999. Each handled an average of 14.6 cases a month - a rate CPS intake director David Delmendo said was pretty high - though some might have been re-referrals. CPS workers make phone calls, visit schools and homes, go to court and help organize family services. They usually work more than 40 hours a week, but overtime is not allowed. We probably all donate a couple hours a week to the state, Delmendo said. (CPS workers) are probably not getting all they deserve.He said it's hard to retain staff in Kitsap County because of the workload and lack of resources. Time management is a crucial skill for caseworkers, who typically handle 25-50 cases at a time. Difficult-to-prove or chronic cases are invariably neglected. On a day-to-day basis, I think if I had more time I could be more thorough, said CPS foster care coordinator Jill Milholland. Cases with no history on the family or isolated incidents might fall through the cracks.They're very difficult, and they sap the energy of the worker. They tend to get closed or not worked on because they're just so hard to prove, Milholland said. Unless the case is right up there, they tend to get put on a back burner. It's just part of the job. Worker retention would help alleviate the caseload and release some of the pressure put on the caseworkers, Milholland said. Families working with CPS are disconcerted when a new caseworker shows up, she added.Dealing with families who abuse their children carries often causes workers to burn out. The sad thing is you see some pretty horrendous abuse, she said. I don't think any worker gets used to images of children who have been abused.Delmendo attributed worker turnover to the nature of the job. When the caseload is overwhelming, and you go from crisis to crisis, you get depressed, he said. The morale in CPS is, they're really tired of carrying so many cases.Pay for a Level One social worker starts at $2,165 a month ($25,980 a year), Delmendo said, but CPS usually seeks experienced social workers and hires at a Level Three, which would be about $2,725 a month ($32,700 a year).Raises are allotted twice a year by a 10-step scale. After five years, Milholland said, workers reach the highest pay level they can make. Further raises depend on legislation.She said workers could easily work more than 50 hours a week and, when they go home, the cases follow them. This is a job you take home and think about and dream about. You never stop thinking about it, she said."

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