Caseworkers say staff shortages plague Oregon foster care

Dozens of caseworkers rallied at the state Capitol Tuesday for full funding of Oregon's foster care system, saying a severe staffing shortage has left employees has caused high burnout and turnover among current employees.

Posted: Apr 30, 2019 5:20 PM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Dozens of caseworkers rallied at the state Capitol Tuesday for full funding of Oregon's foster care system, saying a severe staffing shortage has left employees has caused high burnout and turnover among current employees.

"Our current caseloads are more than double and sometimes approaching triple of what they should be," said Rosanne Scott, a caseworker from Portland. "This is way more work than one person can manage, and it means they're not able to do all the things our kids need us to do for them."

The Department of Human Services, which oversees the state's foster care system, has struggled for years to recruit and retain caseworkers, who work to find adequate foster homes for each of the 7,500 children in state care.

The Service Employee International Union Local 503, which represents public sector workers, said an additional $80 million is needed to properly address problems in recruiting and retaining caseworkers.

And, although Gov. Kate Brown requested an additional $14.5 million last summer to add nearly 200 workers, caseworkers say they need more funds to meet staffing needs.

In a February update to the governor, DHS said that it would need to hire over a thousand child welfare workers and support staff in order to bring down worker caseload levels to the national average. The department is particularly struggling with a shortage of permanency workers, who are supposed to evaluate potential homes for children based on their individual needs.


CLICK HERE for Governor Brown's response to recent problems found within the state's foster care system.


According to the national standard, permanency workers should have a workload of 11 cases. The department found it had 36% of staffing levels needed to achieve that rate and would need an additional 900 full time workers to bring individual caseload levels down.

"Our caseworkers are overwhelmed and are not able to engage with our children and families to understand their culture, assess their strengths and find the root cause of why the family is struggling," the report said.

The department's also been slow to fill vacancies, and the most recent update to the governor shows that only 8% of 300 available positions have been filled. At least 220 people are currently in the hiring process, and 73 positions remain vacant.

Caseworkers say DHS needs to do more to retain the staff it already has, as high workloads and a lack of proper training have caused high turnover rates. A 2018 secretary of state audit found worker burnout caused a 23% turnover rate among staff in 2016, and caseworkers say that often people leave the profession within two years.

Scott, who has been a caseworker for 18 years, said recently the turnover rate has been the highest she's ever experienced. She said she's personally taken over the cases of 19 kids after their caseworkers left their jobs. That's in addition to her current caseload.

She said it's not only hard on the kids but also on the caseworkers themselves, who often feel demoralized and as though they can't truly help children in need.

"It's really sad to lose people who could contribute so much to the system because of a dangerously crushing workload that makes you feel like you're totally inadequate and you can never be enough," she said.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 155597

Reported Deaths: 2208
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah31877528
Washington21211212
Marion18468285
Clackamas13380175
Lane10258126
Jackson8395112
Umatilla765982
Deschutes595259
Yamhill378364
Linn359056
Malheur335158
Polk306442
Klamath279155
Douglas247454
Benton234416
Josephine234050
Jefferson195828
Coos149119
Union128419
Columbia126521
Wasco122126
Lincoln113220
Hood River106929
Morrow104914
Clatsop7756
Crook77518
Baker6567
Curry4296
Tillamook4142
Lake3766
Harney2736
Grant2231
Wallowa1424
Gilliam531
Sherman530
Wheeler221
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California Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 3566914

Reported Deaths: 52158
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Los Angeles119192321435
Riverside2894503767
San Bernardino2866072874
Orange2612203917
San Diego2600913284
Santa Clara1106211777
Kern102627827
Fresno953931443
Sacramento932811472
Alameda806681242
Ventura77623844
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Contra Costa62248681
Stanislaus56132946
Tulare47784758
Monterey42138328
San Mateo38998515
San Francisco34260412
Santa Barbara31805411
Solano30024164
Merced28915397
Sonoma28141298
Imperial26903591
Kings21955218
Placer19763232
San Luis Obispo19612227
Madera15467209
Santa Cruz14588183
Marin13136197
Yolo12834185
Shasta10985174
Butte10962160
El Dorado9095100
Napa903869
Sutter884597
San Benito576759
Yuba573337
Lassen560119
Tehama508152
Nevada396074
Tuolumne394659
Mendocino379643
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Humboldt318033
Lake315641
Glenn222523
Colusa212813
Calaveras190547
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Mono12114
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