The Buzz

S.C. Social Services renews request for more caseworkers

The state’s new child-welfare director reduced her request for the number of caseworkers needed to reduce persistently high caseloads and turnover rates among child-welfare workers.

Social Services’ new request is for 262 new full-time employees across the agency, down from the 338 it requested in an earlier budget request made to the House.

But House budget writers granted less than a third of the agency’s full request for more employees earlier this month. Citing the agency’s difficulty in retaining workers, the House agreed instead to pay raises for existing Social Services employees.

Hiring more workers, giving pay raises and creating more opportunities for career growth are ways to combat last year’s 39 percent turnover rate among child-welfare caseworkers, Department of Social Services Director Susan Alford told state senators reviewing the agency’s budget request, which includes $17.6 million in new state spending.

Alford, who took the director job last month, has been tasked with improving the agency, which came under fire last year after children were dying while in Social Services’ care. While the agency was under investigation last year, the previous director, Lillian Koller, resigned.

A state Senate panel that investigated the agency last year released a report with recommendations Wednesday.

The agency is charged with protecting children and adults from abuse and neglect.

Alford said the agency recently re-evaluated how many new employees it needs to lower child-welfare caseloads to manageable levels.

“At least 20 percent of our staff were carrying caseloads that were 50 or higher, and that's twice as high as acceptable,” she said.

The new request, she said, reflects that number.

Social Service’s request also includes money to continue developing a system for enforcing the collection of child-support payments. The state has been fined penalties for missing a federal deadline for that system’s completion.

In its request for new employees, the agency also is requesting 67 new caseworker assistants to take on some of the administrative tasks caseworkers also must handle.

Alford said pay raises – from 5 percent to 15 percent depending on the position – would encourage workers to stay with the agency.

Some workers, Alford said, also qualify for food stamps or other assistance from the agency.

Senators said they were supportive of the agency’s budget plan.

“We want to support them,” said Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, who chairs the Senate Finance subcommittee reviewing the agency’s budget request.

Alexander said he and his Senate colleagues will do “everything we can in our ability” to help the agency.

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658