The state agency that oversees the Hall County office of the Division of Family and Children Services strongly disputes a judge’s contention that the office has reached near-crisis levels in staffing.
Hall County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Carden, who first spoke out publicly in September about staffing levels at the office, said this week that the local DFCS office was down to seven child welfare caseworkers in an office that 18 months ago employed 38.
Carden said she’s been told that six more caseworkers have been hired and are in training and approximately six other positions have been approved for the office.
Carden is worried that even with the new hires, the staffing at the office is not enough to adequately do the job of making welfare checks and ensure that at-risk children are not neglected or in danger in their homes.
Larger case loads for local DFCS workers have spelled delays in court and could also lead to delays in the field, Carden said.
“I think (children) have to be in danger,” Carden said. “The longer it takes for things to happen, the greater the likelihood that they’re not going to catch things in time.”
Carden said she believes local DFCS employees are overworked, and the current attrition rate is leading to the loss of experienced people in the office.
Hall County DFCS office employees, including the local director, are not authorized to speak with the news media about staffing issues. All media inquiries go through the Georgia Department of Human Services in Atlanta.
Dena Smith, a spokeswoman for DHS, said Wednesday that “there’s never been a problem with hiring” front-line caseworkers in Hall County or any other DFCS office.
“There’s never been a freeze or a furlough for that position,” Smith said. “It’s just a matter of a director putting in a request to hire caseworkers.”
Smith said DFCS is doing its job in Hall County.
“There’s not been any problem meeting the case loads in Hall County at all,” Smith said.
Smith said according to information provided to her by the local director, there are 16 or 17 case managers in the Hall County office. She said there were never 38 case managers.
“The highest level for Hall County would be 26 caseworkers, no more than 28,” she said.
Carden and Juvenile Court Judge Cliff Jolliff work closely with DFCS, whose caseworkers often appear in her court for abuse or neglect cases in which children must be taken from their homes.
Many children are ultimately reunited with their families, but those reunions are taking longer with fewer caseworkers, Carden said. Parents must meet the requirements of written case plans prepared by DFCS before their children can be returned to their homes.
“We’ve had a lot of problems getting those case plans prepared and approved,” Carden said.
Smith said there “is no issue” in regards to staffing.
“Hall County has not encountered any risk or problem with meeting case loads,” Smith said. “The county will continue to hire case managers in the future, and there’s been no problem with getting that done.”
Smith said DFCS and the state’s Juvenile Court judges are “all on the same team.”
“We all have the same bottom line in mind, which is the safety of children and helping families thrive,” she said.