Before lawmakers adjourn the 2013 session, Montanans should be aware of unintended consequences from decisions made in 90 busy workdays.
One unintended result of legislative budgeting will make the work of Child Protective Services employees even more difficult. The Child and Family Services Division has seen high turnover – 43 percent last year. A study commissioned by the division showed that the reasons for high turnover are primarily work stress and the feeling of not being able to do enough to help clients because of work overload.
The Schweitzer administration last year agreed to a temporary staff increase of 13.5 full-time-equivalent child protection workers to help reduce the high caseloads and burnout that was contributing to an unacceptably high turnover rate.
Unfortunately, the budget approved by the Legislature eliminated a request to make those positions permanent.
“The staff positions were removed from the division that protects children from abuse and is suffering from the one of the worst work overload issues in the agency,” Richard Opper, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, told The Gazette last week. “The number of children in care continues to increase as do the number of reports, so workload is higher than it has been historically.”
The number of Montana kids in foster care has increased by 175 since January and totaled 2,198 this month.
CFSD is working with the University of Montana School of Social Work on stress and resiliency training that has decreased turnover for child protection workers in other states.
The division is also looking to provide improved mobile technology for all staff to increase efficiency. By the end of June 2013, the Division plans to have tablets for all field staff, so that they can enter case notes and do other work while in the field.
However better training and technology won’t close the gap with an increasing caseload.
“If no additional positions are granted, it will be difficult to manage an increasing workload without more people – and it is likely that the turnover issue may actually get worse instead of better,” Opper said.
Children’s lives depend on the division having adequate staffing with well-qualified child protection specialists. A competent caseworker who addresses the children’s needs promptly will prevent further trauma and probably shorten the time they spend in foster care.
The state budget isn’t law yet. We ask Gov. Steve Bullock and legislative leaders to consider Montana’s most vulnerable children and fulfill this modest request to increase child protection staff.