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‘Scary’ Surge In Caseloads Reported At Massachusetts DCF

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BOSTON (CBS) – State lawmakers are sounding new alarms about a growing crisis in caseloads at the Department of Children and Families.

In the past year, DCF saw an increase of 6,800 cases piled on state social workers, a 23 percent spike from the prior year. But the hiring process has taken much longer.

While reducing DCF caseloads became a priority following the 2013 deaths of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver and two infants, the number of social workers handling crisis-level caseloads – defined as twenty or more – has seen a sharp increase.

Currently, 262 workers statewide are dealing with crisis workloads, up from just 73 a year ago. The recommended caseload for each field worker is 15.

Around 200 new social workers have been hired, with nearly as many having quit or retired.

“We’ve seen a sharp spike in caseloads. We’ve also seen a spike unfortunately in the attrition rate in the department,” Jason Stephany, a spokesperson for Service Employees International Union Local 509 said. “The caseload crisis is getting worse, not better at this point.”

And Governor Patrick says many of the new hires are still being trained. So far, the state has only been able to add 15 new case workers to handle those cases, which is just a one percent increase.

“There’s no instant answer. The answer is going to be adding more people and adding more technology. And I think you know that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” he said.

On Thursday, State Senator Michael Barrett will ask his colleagues to budget $187 million to hire more DCF field workers, which is more than the governor recently asked for, but nowhere near DCF’s pre-recession funding level.

“At this point it’s very volatile and very scary, Barrett said. “We’re going to have to go back to some sort of equilibrium, but it’s going to require more staff to get it right.”

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