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DHS falls behind on cases

By Randy Ellis Modified: December 5, 2007 at 5:40 am •  Published: December 5, 2007
Despite increased funding from the Legislature, the state Department of Human Services is falling behind on its investigations of child abuse and neglect complaints.

The department had 363 child welfare referrals pending for more than 60 days in October 2007, which is more than double the 179 referrals that the agency had pending for that length of time in October 2006, according to records presented Tuesday at a DHS commission meeting.

One reason for the increase is the agency has had trouble keeping employees, said Marq Youngblood, division administrator of the DHS Data Services Division.

Although the Legislature authorized DHS to hire 100 new child welfare employees in 2006, the agency only had 999 child welfare employees working in October 2007 — 23 fewer than the 1,022 who were working in the same month a year earlier.

Turnover has been a problem, said Larry Johnson, who is in charge of field operations for the agency.

"The majority of the staff probably has less than two years' experience,” he said.

DHS director Howard Hendrick said officials have authorized workers in certain regions to work overtime to try to eliminate the backlog, but working long hours contributes to on-the-job stress, which can lead to higher employee turnover.

"We have been trying to hire everywhere we can,” Johnson said, adding that the agency has been running ads and recruiting at colleges.

Hendrick said it is difficult to keep employees because, "the work is hard.”

Nevertheless, he said he was confident the agency would catch up on the backlog.

The number of complaints usually goes up in August because children who have been at home go back to school, where signs of abuse and neglect are more apt to be seen and reported by others, he said.

"It takes awhile to get all those referrals worked,” he said.

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