KDKA investigates: Child and youth services face major shortage of social workers

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Workers who focus on protecting children and families in Pennsylvania are in crisis as cases pile up without enough employees to do the job.

KDKA has learned that there is an extreme shortage of social workers for Children and Young People’s Services (CYF) across the Commonwealth, leaving staff who remain with higher expectations and more workloads.

CYF social workers work to protect children from abuse and neglect.

“The staff doing this work is really that line of protection that can mean the difference between a child being alive or dead tomorrow morning,” said Brian Bornman, executive director of the Children Youth Administrators Association of Pennsylvania.

Bornman said some counties in Pennsylvania are currently operating with a 60% vacancy rate.

“I don’t know how they manage to work,” Bornman said.

KDKA has reviewed vacancies in our area, learning that the greatest shortage is currently in Allegheny County with 75 vacancies.

In Westmoreland, the CYS manager said there were 12 vacancies. There are 11 in Washington, six in Fayette, two in Butler and one in Beaver County.

The shortage of social workers means a higher workload, leading to increased stress and burnout, threatening the safety of the families and children concerned.

“When you have social workers carrying these huge workloads trying to do three times as many investigations, they really should be doing… things aren’t being done as thoroughly as they otherwise would be. That’s just the reality of the situation,” Bornman said. .

In Washington County, the director said during the pandemic, cases were declining due to isolation.

“We knew that abuse was still happening, most likely at higher levels; however, with children being isolated, reports have decreased. Now that children are less isolated, we have seen an 8% increase in reports of abuse. significant child abuse/neglect so far in this fiscal year that we had not experienced in the previous three fiscal years,” said Anne Schlegel.

“With the increase in agency reporting, while staffed at 75%, social workers are experiencing a higher workload, which is causing increased stress and burnout. As another additional concern, our community agencies and providers are understaffed, preventing them from accepting referrals or closing programs that are used to support families.

She said to meet the need, community members can call 724-228-1234 (24/7) and be connected to services and supports to meet their needs.

Jacki Hoover is the assistant director of the Allegheny County Department of Social Services. She said not only is CYS experiencing a shortage of workers, but its community partners are also short of employees, which has also increased their regular workload.

On average, over the past three years, Allegheny County has handled approximately 3,300 cases per year.

“I would say there is a need for services, primarily behavioral health supports that you know can impact not only our staff but also our families,” Hoover said.

Several counties said they were hiring from the state civil service test, where applicants are currently in short supply, making the hiring process more difficult.

“We are really focused on education and well-being, so you really feel the need to increase the number significantly, not only to meet the needs of the staff, but also the needs of the community and the families that we serve,” Hoover said.

Bornman said some counties are offering recruiting bonuses and considering work-from-home options in order to meet the need.

He said CYS needed recruits more than ever.

“I would just say if you’re listening to this and you think you have the heart to come out and help the kids and help protect the children of Pennsylvania, please, please, please please watch how to become a social worker. We need all the help we can get right now,” Bornman said.

“We would like this opportunity to seek innovative, dynamic, caring and compassionate people who would be willing to join us and would be passionate about change and being part of a dynamic team that works with children and families to keep these children safe in their homes and to investigate allegations of abuse or neglect in Allegheny County,” Hoover said.

If you want to become a social worker, you can find out more and apply online.

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