April 24, 2012
High Workloads and Limited Resources May Prevent Children in Foster Care from Returning Home
SALEM – A state audit released today found that while the Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare Program returned children home at a higher rate than the national average, high caseloads and limited services to parents may prevent children in foster care from returning home. Auditors suggested the agency consider some strategies to help case workers with the challenges they face.
“In this resource limited environment, frontline workers are expected to do more with less,” Secretary of State Kate Brown said. “We found a few things that might help a little in coping with their large workloads.”
The Child Welfare Program is responsible for removing children from their homes when their safety is threatened. The Department also tries to return these children to their homes or primary caregivers whenever possible. According to federal data, about 29% of about 13,000 children in foster care in Oregon went home, compared to 22% nationally. However, they found this success is threatened by high caseworker workloads and tight program funding.
Certain caseworker tasks deemed critical for safely returning children home were not occurring at adequate levels and, in some cases, were not occurring at all. Most noteworthy were inadequate parent-child visits, decreased efforts to engage parents, and limited resources to address parents’ mental health, substance abuse, and housing issues.
State auditors observed several district practices that, if explored further, could increase return rates. For example, the Department’s Klamath County Office has a visitation center located away from the child welfare office, which can provide a less stressful environment for parent-child visits.
Auditors recommended central management consider assigning a central office program manager dedicated to returning children home who could help set priorities and provide better direction and caseworker support. Auditors also recommended consideration of assigning some administrative tasks caseworkers now perform to support staff.
“We conducted on-site work in five of Oregon’s 16 districts and saw their challenges and some strategies that could help. We believe these strategies could help caseworkers a bit, and perhaps return more children to their families,” said Audits Director Gary Blackmer.
The audit report, including the agency response, can be found at www.sos.state.or.us/audits.
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