Associate Professor Barbara Rittner weighs in on Erie County CPS caseloads

Published October 3, 2014

Barbara Rittner, PhD

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WGRZ Story by Jeff Preval

BUFFALO, NY - 2 On Your Side is learning more about the rising number of caseloads facing workers within Erie County Child Protective Services. This is a topic we've been focused on for months, after several children have died while CPS was investigating the cases.

The numbers we've obtained from Erie County Child Protective Services show sky-high caseloads, creating more and more work for each caseworker. Total CPS cases are up from 931 in August of last year to more than 4,000 this past August.

County officials say part of the explanation for the increase is because last year the county was under state review, after several child deaths, and many cases couldn't be closed.

"That's why we continue to have very high caseloads, we're continuing to work on closing those cases and doing the right investigation that's the part that's going to take us time," said Carol Dankert-Maurer, the commissioner of Erie County's Department of Social Services.

Dankert-Maurer spoke last week in front of the county legislature health committee. 2 On Your Side requested an interview with the commissioner Friday, but we weren't granted one. According to Dankert-Maurer, caseloads will likely rise.

"Intake is back up to normal and probably going to be beyond, we're getting a lot of reports from schools," Dankert-Maurer said.

This has led to each caseworker having more cases to investigate. The average number of cases a CPS worker should have is 15. But, currently, the average is 44 -- almost three times more than what a worker should handle.

Professor Barbara Rittner of UB's School of Social Work says high caseloads can lead to burn out.

"The system is also setting up child welfare for an impossible job, under incredibly difficult circumstances," Rittner said.

As grim as the numbers are, there may be some hope.

Over the summer months, total caseloads and the average number of cases per worker have dropped slightly. And county officials hope that this trend continues.

"Part of it is going to be determined by the intake, we are absolutely committed to getting these caseloads down," Dankert-Maurer said.

Earlier this year, Erie County hired more than 30 CPS caseworkers to address rising caseloads and nearly all of the workers are in training, so they're not ready to hit the streets yet.

There are about 30 temporary workers -- that will soon take cases and it's hoped that these employees will lessen the burden on current CPS workers.

Meantime, the county is using CPS trainees, probation workers, and law enforcement officers to help current CPS caseworkers.