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DCFS Gets Grant to Help With Caseworker Turnover

Sue Lincoln

We hear it a lot – “reduce the size of government”. But what happens when you actually do? Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters says in the past decade, they’ve had to cut 30 percent of their workforce.

“We don’t have fewer children or families that we’re caring for, but we lost 600 people,” Walters told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday. “Do the math.”

And, she says, being a social services caseworker isn’t a so-called “cushy state job.”

“We’re a first responder; we’re just like firemen and policemen. They go out 24 hours a day. So do we,” the DCFS secretary explains. “In fact, a lot of our calls come at nights and weekends.

“If you’re a state employee who’s supposed to go home at 4 o’clock, and you get called out on a case at 3 p.m., guess what? There’s nobody to turn it over to. You carry that case all the way through the night and maybe deep into the next day—and you haven’t gone to bed yet.”

Over time, that means burnout, with nearly half the state’s caseworkers quitting less than three years after being hired.

“Turnover is killing us, especially in Baton Rouge region. This is our highest turnover rate, at 50-percent.”

Walters acknowledges part of the problem is pay.

“You can make as much stocking shelves at Costco as you can working for DCFS. Our entry rate is under $30-thousand.”

The two-percent pay raise caseworkers received, starting in July, helps.

“Two percent might not sound like much, but it was something,” Walters says.

And additional help is coming, as DCFS has now been awarded a federal research grant to test strategies to retain caseworkers. Walters says one of the first things they will try will be a separate night shift – an approach Texas is now using.