State: Shortage requires ‘immediate action’
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Immediate action is needed to increase staffing at the Coweta County Department of Family and Children's Services, according to results in an audit report released this week by Georgia's Office of the Child Advocate.
The report is based on an initial review done in fall 2012, and a follow-up review done in fall 2013. The report is addressed to Gov. Nathan Deal.
Outlined by audit officials in the three-page report are their issues and then the recommendation that "immediate action should be taken to get the caseloads to a manageable point, to include sending in workers from other counties and/or the state office on a temporary basis. Coweta County DFCS should be granted adequate resources to hire and maintain an adequate staff to protect Georgia's children, according to the officials’ findings.”
The Office of the Child Advocate further recommended that "the state office should not delay in interviewing or hiring new staff when vacancies occur. Coweta County DFCS needs to be given adequate support to take the appropriate actions needed to maintain a qualified and professional staff dedicated to the protection of Georgia’s children. Serious attention should be given to recruiting and retaining staff in Coweta County, to include but not limited to recruiting people who will commit to remaining in Coweta rather than transferring to other counties after being trained due to location and any other issue that is contributing to high turnover."
The OCA will continue to monitor Coweta County DFCS and will “continue to audit the office as necessary to ensure that our concerns are adequately addressed, our recommendations are followed and improvement is being made in the service that they are providing to Georgia’s children and families,” said Ryan Sanford, assistant child advocate, on Thursday.
Though the original review was done in 2012, it took many months for the report to be released.
In June, Sanford said the delay in releasing the report was simply related to more immediate issues the office had to deal with.
But since it had taken so long, the OCA decided to go back a year later and see how things were going.
In the original review, "We did come back with some concerns. But we left with the opinion the leadership that was currently in place was equipped to take that office in the right direction," Sanford said in January.
However, "in spite of some improvements and the new staff hired in 2012, Coweta County was still experiencing significant issues in the fall of 2013," it is stated in the audit findings.
In beginning the original review, OCA officials randomly selected and examined cases that were handled during 2012. They included investigations, diversion/family support, family preservation, foster care, and adoption cases. The cases were analyzed for "systematic patterns in practice and general concerns."
After reviewing the cases, OCA staff came to Coweta and interviewed case managers as well as county leadership.
During the original review, "Coweta County DFCS was clearly in a state of transition," according to the auditors’ statements in the report. "Many of the case managers that were listed as being responsible for the cases that our team intended to audit were unavailable or no longer worked with Coweta County DFCS. During the course of the audit, Coweta County DFCS was authorized to hire new employees to resolve the staffing issue."
OCA found that some case managers were knowledgeable about their cases and "appeared to take pride in the successes they experienced in working with families." However, "there were case managers who were not very knowledgeable about the cases that we wanted to discuss. Some case managers cited their recent assignment to a case as the reason for lacking thorough knowledge Some of the caseloads were as high as 25 cases, with some describing their workload as overwhelming. This issue was addressed through the state office authorizing the hiring of additional staff,” auditors stated in the report.
The worst problems were seen in the foster care unit. "The state of the foster care unit was particularly concerning," the OCA auditors said. "The foster care unit was severely understaffed and was comprised of one case manager and one supervisor for the entire county. The director of Coweta County DFCS and an administrator assumed responsibility for foster care cases in order to ensure that all the foster care cases were being adequately addressed and that all the appropriate visits for the children were conducted on a monthly basis. OCA commends the leadership for their dedication to children."
When OCA staff returned to Coweta this fall, "case managers still had caseloads that were too high and, therefore, unmanageable," the OCA officials reported. "Coweta County continued to be inadequately staffed and was again in the process of hiring new staff." The county director and administrator were again having to act as case managers "to keep the county operating," the OCA officials reported.
In addition to the high caseloads, there were problems with the timely entering of information into the Georgia SHINES system, the state's web-based automated child welfare information system. In response, "OCA was again told that a system had just been implemented that would allow some 'quiet time' during the day that would allow case managers to put documentation into SHINES."
However, the OCA auditors state in their report that "the new hires are expected to resolve the issue of the unmanageable caseload