Butler County Children Services will move ahead with a planned overhaul of the department as dozens of social workers continue their three-week strike.
BCCS Executive Director Jerome Kearns announced the revamp in January and officials say the plan — which included input from striking workers — is ready for implementation. There are 46 members of the Children Services Independent Union, who would be part of the implementation, still picketing as they have been for three weeks over a contract impasse with the county.
The two sides are scheduled to meet again over the $303,992 wage divide Friday afternoon. Union Chief Becky Palmer sent a message out over the union’s Facebook page — there are 1,063 “likes” on the page — asking all of their supporters to join them at the Government Services Center Thursday.
County Administrator Charlie Young said there will have to be major moves within the agency in order to reduce the amount of time children are away from their homes and to ensure they can safely reunify families.
“We’ve got to change our focus on what we’re doing, and it will involve changing. We’re currently divided up into intake and ongoing, so we’ll be changing the name and changing the mission of some of those activities,” he told the Journal-News. “We’ll be moving employees around. We won’t have intake employees anymore; they’ll be called something else. We won’t have ongoing, they’ll be permanency. Their mission and expectations will be different.”
Young said whether the 46 striking workers are back next week or not, a new reorganization chart is being drawn up, names of workers, strikers and replacement people are being added. The process has been ongoing and was scheduled to be rolled out on Tuesday, so they are ready to make the change.
“There will be a day when it’s explained, it may take more than one day for that explanation of it to occur,” he said. “It could be tomorrow, it could be Monday that people’s mission, if you will, exact duties and priorities will start changing.”
Palmer said while they knew this was coming, and she participated on the reorganization team, she suspects the strike hastened the process.
“We are not surprised that they are moving forward. Most of the ongoing staff is on the picket line. They do not have enough staff to transfer cases to,” she said. “We have heard that new staff are shadowing current workers, but it would be a concern if new staff are taking cases.”
Supervisors, non-striking employees and new people hired through a job fair last month have been manning the agency. The county has also contracted with outside service providers to handle the workload.
Kearns and Assistant Director Bill Morrison told commissioners in May they plan to implement several things they learned as they met with nine community groups in February.
“We’re looking to increase family participation in case planning. We want to enhance the service delivery system, and we want to ensure that we are utilizing best practices in working with families,” Kearns said. “We are very fortunate in our county to have a program called ‘wrap around,’ and we want to maximize the use of that program.”
Kearns said in January that the agency was not meeting its mission statement and unveiled plans to overhaul the county agency with input from groups of former clients, foster children and families, law enforcement, social service agencies and faith-based organizations.
Under the plan unveiled three months ago, a team will take a look at an incoming case and within 24 hours a decision will be made as to whether it should go to the intervention unit, the permanency unit or the criminal investigation unit.
Under the current structure, families can be separated for a year-and-a-half — the state average is less than a year — because it is taking six months to investigate a claim and another month to create a case plan, according to Morrison. Ongoing cases are open for an average of 460 days, he said, and services, such as help with heroin addiction, often don’t kick in until the case is well on its way.
The wrap around program — which utilizes a team approach of addressing various needs a family has — provides that the social worker in charge of the case would have six months to work with the family. If the family fails to follow the services and directions given, the case would move on to another case worker for more intense attention before a decision is made to permanently remove a child.
“That will give them an opportunity with a new case worker to begin trying to create a last ditch effort to try to salvage this family prior to us moving for permanency,” Morrison said in May. “So it causes the case transfer point to occur at a point where it makes sense, where it has utility, if the first worker has been unable to communicate with the family.”
Kearns also outlined what he dubbed “service enhancements,” such as improving relationships with court-appointed special advocates and guardian ad litems, working with faith-based organizations that have offered, among other things, to recruit foster parents in the county and training staff on “wrap around” principles.
“The reality is the government generally makes lousy parents,” Morrison said. “This plan is designed to minimize the impact of the government as parent to families in Butler County and to support families that are going through crisis in their lives with services that can allow them to move on in their lives and raise their own children.”