Thursday, July 21, 2016
Some San Bernardino County social workers could get 7 percent raise
Amid a state Attorney General’s investigation into San Bernardino County’s child welfare system and recommended reforms by the grand jury, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider a 7 percent raise for 382 social workers.
The proposal is part of a labor contract in which the raise would also apply to an additional 532 county employees also represented by Service Employees International Union Local 721. Those employees include clinical therapists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists and health inspectors, among others. The 382 social workers affected by the contract are social service practitioners — social workers who have earned master’s degrees.
If approved, employees would receive an immediate 2-percent raise, followed by another 2-percent raise on July 22, 2017, and then a 3-percent raise on July 21, 2018.
And in response to growing concerns about the county’s embattled child welfare system, the proposed 155-page memorandum of understanding between the county and SEIU Local 721 calls for the formation of a labor management committee that would focus on hiring more social service practitioners and reducing social worker caseloads.
If approved, it would make the county one of only a few in the state that is attempting to address social worker caseloads, county spokesman David Wert said.
On June 22, the state Attorney General’s Office announced it was investigating the San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services after fielding complaints alleging systemic failures that led to children repeatedly being placed into abusive foster homes, where they died or were severely abused.
A week later, on July 1, the San Bernardino County Grand Jury released its findings from its investigation into DCFS, concluding, among other things, that the department suffered from a high social worker turnover rate and that social workers were burdened with heavy caseloads averaging between 30 and 60 per social worker.
In a telephone interview Friday, SEIU Local 721 President Bob Schoonover disputed the grand jury’s numbers. He said the average caseload per social worker in San Bernardino County is closer to 75, and that the optimum number of cases per social worker is 16 to 17.
“We really have to get on this problem now because it isn’t going to go away tomorrow,” Schoonover said. “When a social worker has 75 cases, that’s a difficult thing to manage.”
He said SEIU was successful in working with Los Angeles County a few years ago in reducing social worker caseloads there, and hopes to see the same success in San Bernardino County.
Still, employees were satisfied with the contract. Last week, 95 percent of voting union members approved the MOU, Schoonover said.
Despite the criticisms, county officials maintain its child welfare system has made great strides in the last two years.
In 2014, there were 396 social workers employed by the county. There are now 499 social workers employed with the county, an increase of 26 percent, Wert said.
In December 2014, the social worker attrition rate was at its highest at 11.3 percent. It is now at 5.1 percent, Wert said, attributing the drastic changes to DCFS Director Marlene Hagen, who took over in February 2015.
“During the 17 months I have been in this position, I have made it my mission to ensure we continue to grow our ranks and give our social workers the tools they need to protect our children, including new training programs, an after-hours investigation unit to eliminate the need for on-call staff, and an improved risk assessment tool to evaluate potential child abuse,” Hagen said in a statement Friday.
July 10, 2016
San Bernardino County Sun
By Joe Nelson