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.