New audit reveals issues at DCFS

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Monday, April 14, 2014 - 7:37pm

A new report by the state legislative auditors office found the Department of Children and Family services has work to do improve in it's mission to help keep kids safe. They looked at the DCFS.

The audit reads, “Overall, we found that DCFS did not always conduct its child welfare activities in accordance with its policies and other requirements. However, according to some DCFS caseworkers and stakeholders, decreased staff, higher caseloads, turnover, and lack of available services affect the department’s ability to conduct these activities. We also found that DCFS could better evaluate the effectiveness of its child welfare activities by conducting more comprehensive data analyses to identify the prevalence of repeat maltreatment and repeat referrals.”

The new report looks at how the DCFS handles it's response to child abuse complaints, what were the department's biggest challenges are, and more.

Auditors had 17 recommendations for DCFS.

One big issue was the timeliness of caseworkers response. Auditors said the DCFS improved its response time; however, there were still times a problem with response.

Daryl Purpera, State Legislative Auditor, said, "We did see for 1,195 roughly 1,200 kids wasn't but for sixty days."

The report states: “Although DCFS has decreased its average response time for cases from an average of 7.26 days in fiscal year 2009 to 2.79 days in fiscal year 2013, it took caseworkers over 60 days to respond to 1,195 (1.34%) of 88,956 cases.”

Parents who looked at the audit said the hope the response time gets better, but they understand the it’s a tough job.

“I think the department is doing their job… It’s such a flood and a need and there is such an outcry for help that I just don’t think they can handle it as speedily as some may like," Jessica McCray, grandparent, said.
Another issue noted by auditors was the high rate of turn over among DCFS staff.

"When ever you have 55 percent turn over it's going to make it real hard to be at your peak performance," Purpera said.

According to the report, “External turnover (i.e., employees leaving the agency) has increased from 15.1% in fiscal year 2009 to 21.3% in fiscal year 2013. Internal turnover (i.e., employees changing positions within the agency) has increased from 17.5% in fiscal year 2009 to 33.8% in fiscal year 2013.”

Then there was the issue of case worker caseloads. Auditors say the number of caseworkers has dropped, but the caseload has gone up.

“The number of DCFS caseworkers decreased by 19%, from 1,008 caseworkers in fiscal year 2009 to 816 caseworkers in fiscal year 2013…Annual caseloads have increased by 18.1%, from 138 cases per caseworker in fiscal year 2009 to 163 cases per caseworker in fiscal year 2013,” according to the report.

“We identified one of the challenges is their case load,” Purpera said. “[The case load] is roughly 163 per person per case worker and the average national average is around 144.

DCFS officials say they’ve moved staff around to help with the caseloads. Plus, they are working to try and retain staff.

“Our priority is to keep the quality staff that we have… Giving them the training and the skills and the tools that they need to be successful, so they don't feel overwhelmed,” Suzy Sonnier, Secretary of Department of Children and Family Services, said.

Sonnier said the department has changed their procedures to help better decide what level and time line for response is needed.

Sonnier described the centralized intake procedure, “The first thing we wanted to do was insure consistency of response. Our staff then take those advanced safety tools and they try to listen to see what is the safety risk.”

Sonnier said in then end their goal is keep kids safe.

"There is nothing more important than protecting the safety of children. Not a single thing out there more important," Sonnier said.

For a look at the full report click here.

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