The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors earmarked money to lower heavy caseloads carried by social workers in the budget it is expected to approve today for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
However, questions remain about the how the board will implement recommendations suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, including the formation of a forthcoming Office of Child Protection. The supervisors will create a transition team to provide advice on child safety matters before the Office of Child Protection is set up, but no information has been provided thus far about the timeline for appointing members of the team.
The new budget includes $6.8 million for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to hire 50 additional social workers to reduce caseloads that are often far beyond recommended state and federal levels.
DCFS has responsibility for more than 35,000 children in Los Angeles County each year. Guidelines from the Child Welfare League of America and the SB 2030 Child Welfare Services Workload Study have recommended between 12 and 15 caseloads for social workers. However, DCFS Director Philip L. Browning has pegged the current average caseload for Los Angeles County social workers at 32.
Last year, social workers staged a walkout and later went on strike to protest high caseloads and conditions that leave many social workers ill-equipped to meet the needs of vulnerable children in foster care.
Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer William T. Fujioka acknowledged that the challenges faced by DCFS social workers contributed to the decision to use newly available revenue from the state to increase the number of social workers in the county.
“We feel that especially given the focus to reduce caseloads and improve the quality of service more social workers are necessary,” he said at a budget deliberations meeting on Monday.
The Board of Supervisors has still yet to identify how it will implement and provide funding for the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Report. In a meeting on June 10, the board voted to move forward with the recommendations and created a new Office of Child Protection to oversee the changes.
According to Fujioka, more clarity about how the recommendations will be implemented and which ones will be prioritized will wait until the transition team and the Office of Child Protection are established.
“Once it gets into place, the Office of Child Protection will be identifying resources that will be needed to improve the quality of services,” he said.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to revisit the issue on August 5, when the transition team is scheduled to deliver its first report on the process of implementing the Blue Ribbon Report’s recommendations.
The Board of Supervisors will vote on the final version of the 2014-2015 budget today.
Jeremy Loudenback is a Journalism for Social Change Fellow and a graduate student at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.