(Updated 8 a.m.) The state’s fiscal condition has led to increased caseloads that have overwhelmed social workers at the state’s child welfare agency, according to a court monitor’s report.
“Insufficient staffing” has led to an “overwhelming workload issue” for social workers, Raymond Mancuso, who monitors the Department of Children and Families’ compliance with a federal court order, said Tuesday.
In his report to a federal court judge, Mancuso said the department is about 100 social workers short of what it needs to meet the minimum requirements.
“In many cases, it is difficult if not unconscionable to hold staff accountable for perceived errors in case management when workloads are clearly excessive and unmanageable,” Mancuso wrote in his report.
Mancuso said he met with Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes last year and was promised additional funding would be given to department to help it comply with the federal court order. Those promises went unfulfilled, according to Mancuso.
Barnes and the Department of Children and Families declined to comment for this article.
The agency is operating on a $821 million budget for this fiscal year.
Mancuso said that since the budget was approved in June the department has not been given permission to hire staff to fill vacant positions created when other staff have separated from state service.
The current budget assumes the state will end the year with 500 fewer employees. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he plans to reduce the state workforce by 500 employees through attrition.
The state’s fiscal woes worsened last week when budget analysts determined that the state was facing a $502 million deficit in 2017. When Malloy releases his budget in the next few weeks he will have to find the money to close that gap.
State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said that “increased staffing is needed, but also an increased attention to a quality assurance framework that can improve how cases are managed.”
Mancuso warned there are consequences to further funding cuts and staff shortages.
Mancuso said the result of the Malloy administration’s “troubling fiscal actions” is that “at-risk children and families are not being seen often enough.”
In addition, “siblings don’t visit with one another regularly, proper assessments do not occur consistently, appropriate planning efforts are hampered, coordination with service providers and community stakeholders is not routine,” Mancuso wrote.
Mancuso reports to the court every six months. For this report, 54 cases were selected at random to see if the department sufficiently met the needs of the children in its care. The needs of those 54 children were met in only 44.4 percent of the cases, the lowest level in five years.
The department made progress in reducing the number of children in group care. Mancuso also noted that fewer children were prematurely discharged from care.
Mancuso’s next report will be released in July.