Courtesy of Google
Department of Children and Families building in Hartford (Courtesy of Google)

HARTFORD, CT – For the first time since federal court oversight of the Department of Children and Families began in 1991, the agency has gone two quarters of the calendar without burying its social workers in heavy, unreasonable caseloads.

Previous reports detailed well over 100 social workers carrying over the maximum caseload. The status report released Monday found “only a very small number of workers in this situation,” and it pre-certified it as a measure the agency has met.

“It already appears from recent monitoring activity that meeting this benchmark is now having an impact on the family and child related outcome measure that remain to be pre-certified,” the report states. “Reasonable caseload sizes and relative stability in the workforce allow the Department to better concentrate on the best practice issues so important to the outcomes for children and families.”

Ira Lustbader, litigation director at Children’s Rights, and Steven Frederick, partner at Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky, who are co-counsel for the children who brought the Juan. F lawsuit that put the agency under federal oversight, said they are “encouraged” by the report.

“Children’s Rights is encouraged by the areas of progress reflected in this report — especially sustained lower caseloads for DCF front line staff and the improved service array supported by the current DCF budget,” Lustbader and Frederick wrote in a statement. “DCF case workers are doing difficult work and need the room in their workloads to do their important jobs. Meeting required staffing levels and service resources will be essential for this administration to fully and successfully exit from this longstanding reform lawsuit.”

As of the end of November 2019, there were 1,107 social workers carrying cases excluding the 67 trainees. There were 15 vacancies waiting to be filled and 25 social workers that had been hired but were not yet appearing in the computer system. The department has a typical attrition rate of 120-150 social workers annually.

DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes said she’s pleased the department is maintaining its caseload standards.

“This measure is truly fundamental to all our work,” she said. “Appropriate staffing equates to better safety decisions, risk assessments and timely intervention for children and families. As we ask our social workers to involve children, families and communities more fully as partners in our work, we must ensure that staff have the necessary time and support to do so.”

The federal court monitor report pointed out that the agency didn’t meet all the established standards between April and September 2019.

“Of the measures that did not meet the established standards in these two quarters, the most significant issues continue to be the Department’s investigation practice, case planning process, meeting children and families service needs, and appropriate visitation with children and required adult family members of the agency’s in-home cases,” according to the report.

Of the 10 remaining outcome measures being monitored by the federal court, there are five that it has not achieved.

But there seemed to be more good news than bad news in Monday’s report.

The federal court monitor report also pointed out that the 1,000 tablets the department purchased for frontline case workers is making a difference in the quality of the data getting entered into the reports.

“DCF staff have been hampered in efficiently performing their work while out in the field and documenting in a quality manner due to the lack of mobile technology,” the report states. But now staff can “readily access their desktop system when they are away from the office. This means that they have remote access to their case files. As mentioned earlier, current review activity indicates that the tablets are already making a difference in the quality of the case record documentation.”