June 19, 2009
NYS Issues Cornell Report on Oswego County Child Protective Services
OSWEGO - Oswego County's efforts to improve its child protection services received two important boosts forward this week. First, the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations completed its review of the Department of Social Services Child Protective Services program. Second, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services has decided to help fund the County's improvement plan.
The purpose of the Cornell study, which was requested by Social Services Commissioner Frances Lanigan, was “to identify areas of stress, barriers and opportunities for improvement of our child protection services.”
“I requested the Cornell review last fall after the tragic death of Erin Maxwell, as a way to identify issues that will improve child protective services,” said Commissioner Lanigan. “The Cornell review focused on organizational development, including an analysis of our processes, supervisory and management practices, barriers to our effectiveness, and staffing. Unlike the state fatality report issued earlier this year, the Cornell report is not a case review specifically of Erin's death. Instead, it examines the broader picture, identifying the parts of our child protection system that work well and those areas where it should be changed.”
“This report is a very useful tool with a great deal of value,” said Oswego County Legislature Chairman Barry Leemann. “We want to do everything possible to strengthen our Child Protective Unit. The report points out strengths in the unit's structure, and addresses ways that we can better serve the children and families of Oswego County. It will help the department move ahead in its performance.”
Chairman Leemann noted that the Oswego County DSS faces many of the same obstacles, such as high staff turnover, growing workload, and complex and changing federal and state regulations, as other child welfare agencies across the state and nation.
The report's first recommendation is that additional staffing be hired as soon as possible in the child protective unit. The projected number of investigations per caseworker - 139 - is nearly double the recommended national and state workload standard of 72. A recurring theme of the report is that inadequate staffing levels interfere with caseworkers' ability to complete timely safety and risk assessments and other required casework. Overwhelming caseloads not only lead to errors in investigations, but also cause staff burnout and significant turnover which reduces the number of experienced well-trained staff.
“CPS (child protective services) investigations have been steadily growing over the past five years, and have increased 30 percent during that time,” states the report. The rate and number of investigations increased 26 percent during the six-month period of October 2008 through March 2009, compared with the previous six-month period. Last month investigations reached an all-time high of 266 CPS reports. If these trends continue, the report notes, the unit will need 19 additional caseworkers, additional clerical support staff, and four more senior caseworkers.
Oswego County Administrator Philip Church said the State Office of Children and Family Services has agreed to provide Oswego County with $500,000 to help fund new positions in the child protective unit.
“Drawing on the Cornell report, technical assistance from the State, and her 35 years of experience in human services, Commissioner Lanigan is in the process of developing and implementing a comprehensive improvement plan for child protective services in Oswego County,” said Church. “The fact that New York State, at such a cash-strapped time in its history, has approved and committed a half million dollars to her plan, is an indication of the plan's potential for success. The County is very appreciative of the State's funding assistance.”
The addition of staff to the child protective unit is only one component of the improvement plan. Commissioner Lanigan's plan also addresses restructured management and supervision, improved training, improved working relationships with school districts and other agencies, and community participation. The Commissioner will present the plan to the Health and Human Services Committee at its June 24 meeting.
The Cornell study identified a number of related issues that interfere with the caseworkers' effectiveness.
“As elected leaders, we must make sure that the necessary programs and resources are in place to keep our children safe and secure,” said Legislature Chairman Leemann. “This report provides invaluable information to help us achieve that goal.”
The New York State Office of Children and Family Services paid for the process review by Cornell University. The School of Industrial and Labor Relations has conducted similar process reviews with more than 50 state and local child welfare agencies across the country since 1987.
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