DFCS interim director Bobby Cagle has ordered investigators to work a minimum of eight hours overtime per week until the case backlog is eliminated. Investigators will be paid at a “time and a half” rate. (Staff Photo)
ATLANTA — The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services has ordered mandatory overtime for agency investigators to reduce the state’s backlog in child protection investigations.
On Tuesday, DFCS interim director Bobby Cagle ordered the minimum eight hours overtime per week until the backlog is eliminated. Investigators will be paid at a “time and a half” rate.
DFCS currently has more than 3,300 overdue child protective services investigations. The number is about 48 percent of the state’s current caseload, the agency said.
“Each of these overdue cases represents a potential risk for vulnerable children in our state, and this requires swift action on our part,” Cagle said in a statement. “We must make sure these children are in a safe situation as soon as possible.”
DFCS said that under agency policy, investigations into child safety should be completed within 45 days, unless the circumstances call for more time.
Last month, GHN reported in an article that some metro Atlanta DFCS caseworkers have caseloads of about 100, an unusually high number.
The Child Welfare League of America recommends caseloads of 12 to 17 families per worker in child protection cases. Caseloads of 100 for child welfare workers “are extraordinarily high and entirely untenable,” CWLA spokeswoman Linda Spears told GHN.
DFCS said Tuesday that increased levels of reporting, as well as a greater focus on the quality of investigations, have led to the large number of pending cases across the state.
Reports to DFCS about child abuse and neglect have steadily increased over the last year, from an average of 6,600 reports per month to an average of 8,400 reports monthly, the agency said. While the number of reports has risen, staffing levels have remained “relatively static,’’ the agency said.
DFCS said in May, in response to a GHN query, that in 2009 there were an average of 2,228 front-line social service workers. In March 2014, DFCS had 1,633 of these caseworkers.
Gov. Nathan Deal has pledged funding for 500 additional caseworkers over the next three years. DFCS has hired the first 175 case managers and is working to fill existing vacancies across the state.
Karl Lehman, CEO of Childkind, a nonprofit helping families caring for children with special health care and developmental needs, told GHN recently that the General Assembly must fully fund Child Protective Services.
Through budget cuts and the loss of other funds, “the ability of the state to [operate] Child Protective Services has been decimated,” Lehman said.
Cagle is seeking to safely complete 95 percent of overdue investigations by July 31, the agency said. Cases that involve young children, allegations of abuse or families who have had multiple contacts with the agency will be given priority.
Cagle became interim director of DFCS on June 16.
Last year, the deaths of 10-year-old Emani Moss and 12-year-old Eric Forbes mobilized child advocates and lawmakers into proposing changes in the system.
Gov. Deal has created a council to study Georgia’s child welfare system and come up with ways to protect children better. And a pilot program for privatization will occur in two regions of the state.
Andy Miller is editor and co-founder of Georgia Health News Inc.