July 2000, Issue 6-3
For over a decade, front-line social workers have been sounding the alarm that they lack the resources to fulfill their mandate of repairing families and protecting children. The number of cases and the amount of work required per case prevents them from providing even bare bones services to families and children needing help. California caseload standards have remained the same since 1984, yet during that time over 250 significant pieces of legislation have been passed, drastically increasing the workload of child welfare workers.
CWS/CMS - The Last Straw
The already critical caseload problem reached a crisis point in 1997, with the introduction of the Child Welfare Services/Case Management System. The statewide computer system, designed to be an audit tool, was so cumbersome and problematic that it increased the workload to the point that many social workers felt they could no longer serve the interests of their clients in good conscience. As a result, county social workers began leaving the profession in droves. Over 11% of social workers were leaving the profession each year statewide in 1997, and the exodus of workers has increased to 22%.
Senator Costa and Child Deaths in Kern County
Kern County Senator Jim Costa, alarmed at the high rate of deaths in his county due to child abuse, requested the state auditor to investigate. The state auditor's report confirmed what social workers had been saying. The child welfare system is failing to protect the safety of children and families. Social workers have too many cases to provide the required services to their clients.
SB 2030 and Increased Funding
A coalition of groups including Local 535 Children's Services Committee, the SEIU State Council, the County Welfare Directors Association of California, and child advocacy groups launched a legislative campaign to reduce caseloads. Senator Costa sponsored SB 2030, calling for a comprehensive study of the tasks required of child welfare workers. Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, a former social worker and president of Local 535, was one of the main architects of the bill. SB 2030 was passed in 1998 along with a one-time budget increase of $40 million as an interim measure to lower child welfare caseloads until the study could be completed.
Even with an additional $40 million, counties could not find enough social workers to hire. Because county administrators were reluctant to hire a significant number of workers based on a one-time allocation, they were not able to hire enough workers to offset the number leaving. The county with the worst problem, Los Angeles, was particularly slow to hire workers.