Kentucky law mandates state social workers handle no more than 25 active cases per worker. However, that’s not always possible in Hardin County.
Assistant County Attorney Dawn Blair said some social workers in Hardin County have caseloads in excess of 40.
“In Hardin County, they do need more workers because the current ones that we have burn out, for lack of better words,” she said. “The demands of the job are a great deal.”
Family Court Judge Brent Hall agreed, calling it “a grueling job.” He said, statewide, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services runs at 250 vacancies at all times.
“It is not really about worker pay, it is the job they are asking the workers to do,” he said. “We really need to fill those vacancies and attract quality workers to manage the case load.”
During his 11 years on the bench, Hall said caseloads have doubled. He said social service workers sacrifice their home lives for the job and that staffing is the real issue when it comes to social services.
“You can pay a person $100,000 a year, but you won’t get them to work 24/7,” he said. “It really needs to be spread out over a lot more workers.”
Some of that stress could be alleviated if Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget is approved. Bevin allocated $24 million to hire more state social service workers and increase their pay.
“By hiring new social workers, we can decrease the caseload and avoid the burnout that we are seeing on existing workers and retain good workers,” Blair said.
She said the vast majority of social workers in Hardin County are passionate, well-intentioned and hard-working.
“They care a whole lot about what they are doing because they are not doing it for the money,” Blair said. “They are doing it because they are drawn to that area of helping families and people.”
However, she said the demands right now for current workers, as far as the amount of time it entails, take them away from their own families and requires a lot of overtime.
When she heard the governor wanted to invest more money into this area, Blair said she was excited “because hopefully it will allow us to reduce the existing workers’ caseloads to make them more manageable and retain the workers that do this job well and care.”
Debbie Quintin, director of intake for Sunrise Children’s Services, shared a similar view.
“I am hopeful — and I am sure everybody is — that it is going to mean that the kids in Kentucky are going to get a lot more help and a lot more services,” she said.
According to a Jan. 18 report from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, 8,624 children in the state live in out-of-home care because of abuse, neglect or other reasons. Quintin said she has lived in Hardin County for more than 30 years and sees the headlines month after month of abuse toward children.
“I feel we are very aware of how great the need is. People in the governor’s office and the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and staff at Sunrise and other providers in the state are very aware the things we try now are not keeping up with the rise in kids in care,” she said. “There is a need for more services.”
In a letter to Bevin last September, Michelle Sanburn, president of the Kentucky Children’s Alliance, said the number of Department for Community Based Services workers decreased from 4,702 to 4,612 between 2009 and 2016. But she said the cases continued climbing.
“Kentucky has had a tremendous increase in child abuse and neglect investigations as well as an increase in the number of children being placed in out-of-home care services over the last several years,” Sanburn wrote in the letter. “These services are necessary to keep children safe and are statutorily mandated.”
Sanburn, who lives in Hardin County, said Kentucky’s child welfare system is woefully underfunded today as the Department for Community Based Services has endured numerous budget cuts over the past decade.
She said the department’s 2016 budget was about $4 million less than in 2009, but the number of investigations increased from 33,001 in 2009 to 52,424 in 2016, and the number of children placed in out-of-home care rose from 7,222 to 8,527 during the same time.
“The need for more social workers to decrease the caseloads is at critical levels,” Sanburn said. “What the governor put in, in my mind, is the tip of the iceberg.”