Seasoned CYS Caseworkers Work to Avoid Child Placements; Costs Continue to Increase
Some say it is because of a lack of CYS caseworkers and increased placements of children.
Expenses have increased over the years for Clarion County, according to figures released by Clarion County Commissioner Ted Tharan at the recent commissioner debate hosted by the League of Women Voters.
Clarion County receives state reimbursement of 80 or 60 percent for programs mandated by the state.
Tharan said the Clarion County taxpayer share has risen from $514,000.00 in 2015, to $663,000.00 in 2016, to $679,000.00 in 2017, and to $772,000.00 in 2018.
“This year, it’s going to be $947,000.00 for sure – and possibly $1.3 million,” Tharan said.
Placement costs include a stipend for foster parents.
Jillian Stephens, Clarion County Director of Human Services, who was appointed in August, isn’t sure about reasons for an increase in placements. Clarion County Human Services provides programs and services about Children and Youth Services, mental health, developmental disabilities, early intervention, crisis intervention, and transportation. It also includes case management (ACM), Blended Case Management (ICM), supported housing case, and more.
“I can’t answer that specifically, whether or not placements went up due to caseworkers being low,” said Stephens, who pointed out that she is new to the position.
“That may have played a part in it. I do know that our probation officers also place children who are delinquent, and placement costs come from our budget. CYS doesn’t have control of that, so that could play into it as a part of that, as well. We are kind of trying to do things this year to minimalize that.
“I’m sure the one person who voiced concerns may be a little disgruntled. Is she correct in that placements were high? Yes, she is correct. Is it something that was avoidable? I’m not sure what the answer to that is. I’m not sure what happened in 2018–19. In terms of caseworkers that will probably always be a revolving door just because a lot of our caseworkers are fresh out of college, they get experience, and then kind of move on.”
Stephens said there is now only one vacancy in CYS and one in the intake department. CYS is also actively recruiting caseworkers.
“We are sending a couple of our folks to the Clarion University job fair to talk with seniors next month. We also promoted our open positions and foster care during the Autumn Leaf Festival.”
The County also made arrangements several months ago to speed up the Civil Service testing procedure.
While the United Mine Workers of America represent the CYS caseworkers (UMW) and while the pay has increased somewhat for a 40 hour per week work week, some would say that the salary is still not enough to attract and keep employees.
For example, at the latest meeting of the Clarion County Commissioners, a new CYS Caseworker 1 was announced with an annual salary of $28,267.20 for a 40-hour workweek. Another Caseworker was also promoted to Caseworker 2 after completion of foundations training and time in position at a salary of $30,878.29. A bachelor’s degree is required for the job, and many recent graduates have student loan debt of $50,000.00.
The same meeting also saw the resignation of a caseworker and the retirement of Denise Johnson, a longtime CYS deputy administrator.
“CYS Administrator Todd Kline is kind of covering it for right now, and we are trying to figure out all of the duties because everyone absorbs duties and responsibilities as the year goes on,” Stephens continued.
“We’re just trying to figure things out and get a better plan for moving forward.”
Our job is to avoid placements
Judy Myers, CYS Foster Care Coordinator, said, “Our job is to avoid placements. That’s why it’s crucial to have seasoned caseworkers who have a wide knowledge and know what services are available and understand what services to hook people up with whenever they are needs. This decreases the amount of placement because we’re getting the preventative services put in place.
“But when we don’t have seasoned caseworkers — they’re on a learning curve trying to find out how do we access the services, what services do we access, and what agencies provide those services. There’s always a learning process, and when you get hired here, it takes at least 15 months before you really are entrenched here and know how all of these networks work together.
“For me, I have worked in other fields other than children and youth; I’ve worked in mental health, people who have developmental disabilities and delays, and a lot of other things When I came here I had a wide knowledge base about lots of services. When you have someone just out of college, it’s important that they stay here. The younger people are assigned to work with the older caseworkers, and you can teach them things.”
There is a shortage of foster parents, but a new law may allow “kin” to also serve as foster parents.
“Moving forward, what we’re trying to do is we have requested for our budget for 2020 another position under our foster care which focuses on kinship,” said Stephens. “It’s a little hard for one person to focus on foster care and kinship. This should help eliminate some of that placement costs. The main goal of CYS is to keep the children with their families.”
Family First Legislation
“I don’t know how that’s going to look. There are a lot of challenges coming when it first comes into play in October 2020,” Miller said.
Kin doesn’t necessarily refer to just being blood-related anymore. Kin is defined as anyone with an ongoing positive mutual relationship with the child.
Whenever kin is considered, they can choose to become licensed foster parents and receive the regular stipend, or they can refuse the stipend and not become licensed foster parents, and the child can be placed through the courts with the grandparents or whoever the kin would be. In any event, all foster parents and kin must be appropriately vetted.
“Even if they choose not to receive supplement payments, we have to prove to the state when they can come in for licensure that they would be licensable. They all have to get clearances similar to what we do for traditional foster parents, but because the law says we will place with kin first, we have to explain to the judge if the children are not placed with kin why they are not, and we have to continue to look for kin until they either are reunited with the parent or that we identify a kinship placement or the court rules we can stop looking.”
When are the placements required?
“Some of this is dictated by the law, and the law says that if a child is in placement 15 of the last 22 months that the agency is to file for termination of parental rights and changing the goal to be adopted unless there are mitigating circumstances,” Myers said.
“Every case is looked at individually because there are reasons that parental rights should not be terminated. Maybe they are working on the goal, but it’s not as fast as we would like — but, they’re doing it, and it’s still doable. There are other times that there are no mitigating circumstances.
“Whenever we are placing children in homes, one of the things we do is right off the bat to say to them if this child would require permanent residency, would you be willing to be an option? That is also one of the things that we need to do. We need to begin seeking permanency as an option for this child because it used to be that the goal always was to return home, but the overall goal is now where is the child going to be the most permanent. Per the law, we have to seek permanency from day one. We do have families who have participated in our foster parent program who have had an opportunity to adopt the children.
“The court is looking for a placement that is culturally familiar with the children, and sometimes, if the health and safety of the child is not at risk, we need to place with family because those connections are essential.
“Parents can still see their children because the law mandates visitation and visitation schedules. If the child is placed with kin, often, if the kin is comfortable enough, we allow them to work out the visitation between the parents and themselves. Sometimes it’s that the grandparents have this child, and grandparents will say the parents can come over at any time.”
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