BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Erie County Legislature voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to approve the hiring of 37 new employees in the Child Protective Services Department.
Most of the new positions are expected to be filled by July 1. Those who took the civil service exam for CPS this past spring will be given first priority.
Twelve of the new workers will be CPS investigators, former law enforcers who are expected to have the most immediate impact in a department where there are still almost 5,000 open cases. That’s three times the load of just last year.
Erie County Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer spent Thursday morning in the hot seat at Erie County Hall, taking questions from lawmakers demanding accountability if they were to agree to add workers to her department.
She explained that the state had criticized the county for closing cases too soon.
“They were not only saying that we were closing them too fast, but that we weren’t doing as extensive of an investigation as they expected us to do. So the real driver for the fact that we need long-term additional staff is because we have raised the bar on the quality of performance and the expectations around what constitutes a reasonable investigation now.”
Republican Legislator Kevin Hardwick stressed the need for quality over quantity when it comes to CPS workers.
“You know, I’d rather have my kid in a class of 40 with a great teacher than a class of 10 with a mediocre teacher and I think the same kind of principle would hold true for case workers.”
Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe says it goes far deeper than just the case workers.
“We think that there are issues throughout the entire system from Albany all the way down to us, at all levels.”
Erie County Personnel Commissioner David Palmer agrees there is high anxiety.
“There’s no doubt about it, with caseloads the way they are and people being able to get their work done expeditiously, it is not only employees, it is the management people that are stressed beyond belief.”
Some county lawmakers have linked a backlog of cases to the deaths of children at the hands of a parent or caretaker. On May 14, Buffalo police say 8-year-old Jacob Noe was stabbed to death by his mother in their apartment on Lovering Avenue in North Buffalo. An Erie County caseworker was scheduled to check on the boy’s welfare later that day.