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As Sacramento County prepares next year’s budget, some question major cuts being proposed to the county agency charged with assisting at-risk adults and abused, neglected and exploited children and families.
As part of the county staff-recommended budget for 2019-20, 55 unfilled jobs in the Department of Child, Family and Adult Services would be removed, including 27 full-time social workers. The proposal comes as the agency continues its years-long struggle to address regular turnover, a notable vacancy rate and large caseloads.
DCFAS Director Michelle Callejas said in a statement that despite the cuts, Child Protective Services and Seniors and Adult Services will “absolutely persevere.”
“The department has an amazing workforce that is dedicated and committed to addressing the safety and well-being of children, families and vulnerable adults,” Callejas said in a statement.
But department employees worry that the cuts are a sign that already large caseloads are set to grow, said Ted Somera, executive director of the union for Sacramento County’s social workers.
“The social workers I did hear from, they’re tired of being worked to the bone,” Somera said.
Sacramento County has not been aggressive enough to recruit and fill open jobs budgeted in previous years, Somera said, losing out to other employers in the region because they offered a job promising “more money and less stress.”
Last year, social workers in the emergency response division had an average of 16 new referrals per month, according to county spokeswoman Brenda Bongiorno — down from the 19 per month average in 2016, but still higher than the Child Welfare League of America‘s recommendation of no more than 12 active reports per month.
A 2008 Sacramento Bee investigation found widespread deficiencies in the Sacramento County CPS agency, leading to a scathing grand jury report and a county audit that found that at least four children died in the department’s care after chronic failings — including low morale, high turnover, high absenteeism and poorly managed caseload increases.
“For many years they were being demonized in the media for kids dying on their watch,” Somera said. “How is this going to make it better?”
Social worker staffing levels have increased in the last five years: The department in January 2019 was about 16 percent larger than it was in 2015.
But the agency still struggles with turnover — in the last year and a half, about 78 full-time social workers were hired, and about 46 have left. The current vacancy rate at CPS is 7.6 percent.
The department also still faces a high unavailability rate of about 40 percent, during which time social workers are unavailable to investigate cases because of training, vacation, court hearings, meetings and sick leave. In 2015, the unavailability rate was 50 percent.
The largest new expense proposed in the staff recommended budget for next year is $21.7 million in improvements to Sacramento County jails. A lawsuit against the county last year alleged “inhumane” solitary confinement conditions.
“I appreciate what the Sheriff’s Department is doing, but come on, enough is enough. Why is it that the indigent and poor families have to suffer as a result of the budget?” Somera said.
The proposed cuts to the Child, Family and Adult Services Department budget would save the county about $6.56 million.
None of the proposed cuts would include layoffs. The department currently has 1,142 full-time positions, according to Callejas.
After budget hearings, the department plans to conduct an assessment to “identify additional efficiencies (and) determine if existing resources need to be reallocated in order to continue serving our community effectively,” Callejas said in a statement.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will begin reviewing the recommended budget in hearings Tuesday.