ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal is promising more manpower to protect children in our state. He has approved $4.3 million in funding to hire another 100 DFCS case workers as the state juggles thousands of backlogged abuse investigations.
A DFCS spokesperson says approximately 2,200 staff members from case managers to county directors, have worked at least eight hours of overtime the past three weeks to help alleviate the backlog. Still, the division has more than 2,700 investigations that have not been completed in 45 days per its policy.
According to the Governor, the state's goal is to have a caseload ratio of 15:1 by 2017. An independent review of several metro Atlanta counties by the Office of the Child Advocate found workers in Clayton and Hall counties with loads of more than 100 and in Gwinnett, there are caseworkers trying to stay connected and protect more than 140 families at a time.
The new hires will certainly be a welcome relief. Lawmakers approved 175 new caseworkers when it passed the budget earlier in the year, and the Governor's office says this new wave will be on top of the workers he plans to ask for in next year's budget.
But even if they were all hired today, it will be months before they can take on any cases. Once hired, the state has a training program that takes about three months to complete.
Ashley Willcott with the Office of the Child Advocate says finding and retaining qualified workers is also a challenge.
"How are you going to hire trained, qualified individuals at a low rate of pay for a hard, stressful demanding job when most people don't have a positive image or perception of DFCS?" questioned Willcott, who believe the pay for case workers needs to be increased.
Starting pay for a case worker according to current ads posted is $28,000. DFCS says it has been aggressive in its hiring and only has 150 vacancies statewide in child welfare services.
Even with the new hires, Georgia will still have fewer case workers on staff than five years ago.