Cuyahoga County short 145 case workers in Department of Child and Family Services office

Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 4:56 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Like so many businesses and offices in Northeast Ohio, workers at Cuyahoga County’s child and family services put “We’re Hiring” signs outside the Jane Edna Hunter building.

What’s different about the ask within that department is that children’s lives are literally dependent on the people needed to fill the roles.

COUNTY LOOKING FOR 145 CASE WORKERS: Like so many businesses and offices in Northeast Ohio, workers at Cuyahoga County’s child and family services put “We’re hiring” signs outside their building. What’s different about their ask within that department, is that children’s lives are literally dependent on the people needed to fill the roles.

Posted by Hannah Catlett on Monday, October 10, 2022

They are workers the community counts on to make sure children are safe and intervene when kids are in danger.

A 19 News investigation recently revealed that with nowhere else to go, dozens of teens have been forced to stay more than one night at the Jane Edna office building so far this year.

Amid our coverage, the placement crisis has become a focal point and regularly discussed topic in the race for County Executive.

Chris Ronayne is running as the county’s democratic nominee and Lee Weingart is running against him as a republican.

In a recent debate between the two candidates, citizens posed questions about issues near to their hearts.

Traci Giovanis asked, “How will you immediately address the foster care, youth crisis in our county? Specifically, housing children with needs at Jane Edna and then these children are put through a broken justice system.”

The candidates’ answers in the debate, lead us to discover that Cuyahoga County is down 145 case workers right now. That’s 30 percent of the case worker staff budgeted for.

“The caseloads are too big,” Chris Ronayne asked.

Late last month, just a few weeks after our one-on-one interview with Interim Director Jackie Fletcher, the county council passed her department’s emergency request to raise wages for social workers.

The latest job posting shows child protection specialists now earn 26 dollars an hour, which is almost two dollars more per hour than the state average according to ZipRecruiter.

Even after the wage increase, the conversation continues; not only about the workforce, but how to appropriately place the children who come into state care.

They are often teens who may have mental challenges and may be dangerous to the community if not taken care of properly.

“As you probably know, the county is warehousing children in the Jane Edna Hunter county building, because they won’t pay an appropriate reimbursement rate to OhioGuidestone and Bellefaire, who have slots available, but can’t hire staff because the county is being too cheap,” Lee Weingart said.

We reached out to those providers mentioned that care for kids with mental illness and other special needs.

While OhioGuidestone declined to comment, Bellefaire tells 19 Investigates it has 31 empty beds they could open if they had the money to pay staff.

A spokesperson says Bellefaire recently asked the county for a rate increase, but it was denied.

You may remember, the county ultimately signed a $500,000 emergency agreement with the Centers for Families and Children to open eight new beds there.

The Centers tells us those beds aren’t open yet.

However, the county is about to vote on a measure that would allocate 10 more million dollars to setting them up and running them through 2024.

In a statement, a spokesperson said, “Ours is a novel approach called T – Suite, a hotel for teens. This will involve comfortable setting while these teens wait to be placed in their next home. It will include 24/7 residential support to provide for the safety and needs of these young people. It includes a minimum of one team member for every two youths with the option to increase staffing to 1:1 depending on needs; skilled caregivers who will be paid far above the market rate; off-duty plainclothes police officers to help keep children, staffers and guests safe; and a setting designed to help begin or continue the healing process.”

The Centers tells 19 investigates the following is still on the to-do list:

If the county moves forward, the beds will be available for 12- to 18-year-olds.