Frustrated child welfare workers appeal to state lawmakers for help

Frustrated child welfare workers appeal to state lawmakers for help

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Frustrated child welfare workers appealed to state lawmakers for help during a briefing on Tuesday, where they shared their struggles — which include overwhelming caseloads.

"I love this job and I would never leave this job, but I will tell you this is the least amount of money that I've ever made and I get questioned for every little overtime that I need to do," said social worker Stacia Ohira.

90 of the nearly 400 positions in the state Department of Human Services' Child Welfare Services (CWS) branch are currently vacant.

"There's certain people in certain positions that really, the powers that be really need to look at it and say, 'Hey, are they really creating a toxic environment for our staff for them to not want to be here?'" said Debbie Soria, a CWS supervisor.

The DHS director said the agency is working to address problems with recruitment and retention. The department just launched a pilot program called "Wiki Wiki Hire" to get qualified workers into positions quickly.

"We need to make sure that families are healthy, safe, and their well-being is the utmost importance for us, and for staff to have all those resources to deliver the services," said Pankaj Bhanot. "I'm very committed to listening to staff."

There are also workload issues. The statewide average for each caseworker is 30 to 35 cases, according to the department.

"It's really harmful when we entrust our kids to a state agency without the appropriate resources to take care of them," said Joseph O'Connell, a former foster child on the Big Island.

There's a backlog of roughly 300 moderate risk level cases that are part of voluntary case management. DHS officials said the contract provider changed and there was a gap period due to procurement challenges, but they promised that there is some relief on the way.

"We're at the stage where we have a provider, a permanent contracted provider as of January 1, and slowly we're getting the cases over," explained Kayle Perez, administrator of the Social Services Division.

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