Frontline personnel responsible for children in state custody may have a low number of cases compared with workers in other states, but they are still overworked, an annual state audit report released Monday says.
The state Division of Child and Family Services has stated that Utah has relatively low caseloads but that the actual work expected of caseworkers is not allowing them to spend enough time actually working with families, the legislative auditor general states after reviewing several aspects of how the state handles children in foster care.
The average caseload is 15 per employee, but many have much more than that, according to the audit. Almost 40 percent of the workers have more than 15 cases each. There are about 2,000 children in foster care each year.
Caseload numbers are pretty much irrelevant, anyway, according to the report. The main question that the division should determine is what workload, not which number of cases, produces the most positive outcomes for children, be that reuniting children with the family, placing them with relatives or adoption.
Several caseworkers told auditors they have insufficient time and too much paperwork to do their jobs properly. They also said few of them ever meet the requirement of personally visiting each child twice each month .
"I have had 17 to 36 cases," one caseworker said. "I don't have the time. Additionally, some families require more than two visits, some less."
Travel is necessary but also impedes the work. "I have children all the way from St. George to Bountiful and a few in the middle," one worker said. Caseworkers drive an average of 500 miles and spend 26 hours traveling each month.
The auditors also said they are concerned that some caseworkers seem to remove many more children than other caseworkers.
Richard Anderson, division director, said he agrees with many of the audit findings. As far as some caseworkers having more removals than others, he said that is simply a matter of what kind of cases someone draws. Citing one particular worker who had 10 removals, he said most were children of parents who had been arrested or who had repeatedly abandoned or neglected children.
"It is pretty much the luck of the draw," he said. "But we have said we will come up with an acceptable range."
Anderson said the caseload/work load issue is constantly under review because it accounts for a 54 percent turnover rate among foster care workers.
"But when I see staff not accomplishing goals, and that problem is statewide, then something is in their way," Anderson said. "People want to do a good job, but we have to ask ourselves if the bar is too high and if we haven't given them enough resources."