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January 09, 2003

Pissing Into The Wind How

Pissing Into The Wind

How many kids is too many? The caseworker in New Jersey who was in charge of the 7-year-old found dead in New Jersey had 107 children under her supervision. Obviously her case load was too large for her, but is that because of the nature of the bureaucracy she worked for, her own incompetence, or the sheer numbers of visits she had to make to check in on the kids?

If all 107 children were in 107 separate families, then that's obviously too many. I have the impression that most of the kids on her list were members of multiple child families, but she was still probably overloaded. I would guess that the proper caseload size for a social worker is about 23 families, nuclear, foster, or other, whatever other might entail. That's enough for one visit a day, leaving time for associated paperwork and support calls on behalf of the kids. I don't have any numbers to back me up, but I'm going to say that that will end up with each caseworker having about 50 kids, assuming that the system endeavors to give them an average of two kids per family.

On the plus side, I've given each caseworker more time to supervise and deal with the problems each family has to deal with. On the minus side, I just doubled the size of a notoriously inefficient bureaucracy, at a time when there's no state money to be had anyway. In short, that solution will not fly, even if there were no objections to expanding the bureaucracy, and there are always objections to expanding the size of a bureaucracy. Or at least there used to before Republicans decided that certain bureaucracies were okay with them.

The only other possible solution I can think of at the moment is to allow private organizations to have access to these kids as well. Certify them yearly, and have the caseworkers oversee their efforts. As kids come into the system, assign them to the organizations that are doing the best job at keeping the kids warm, clothed and safe. If the kids hear a bit about Jesus, or Mohammed or the Lord Buddha, well that's a small price to pay for their safety. Keeping a child alive trumps the necessity of church and state separation, to my mind.

Otherwise we'll keep hearing stories like the following, from artchick

When I wound up helping the DCFS to strip a 4-year-old and her 2-year-old twin brothers to the skin to look for bruises, that was my first clue. When I waded through a year of watching 2 lovely smart sisters draw further and further into themselves and never once ask for help because they were afraid of the person (allegedly) sexually abusing them, that was the second clue. When I couldn't do a thing about those girls because the social workers kept MAKING APPOINTMENTS to check up on them at home (and of course nothing was ever wrong), that was my third clue. When one of my adult clients at the training center came to class with nasty critters crawling on him because the people running the group home were too overworked and understaffed to take care of everyone properly, that was very nearly the last straw.

Burnout is all to common among child care workers, social or otherwise, as artchick illustrates. But it's most often not because people don't care anymore, it's because they perceive their best efforts as useless, changing nothing. Until something is done to change that, we're doomed to stories like the one in New Jersey.

Posted by Bigwig at January 9, 2003 12:22 PM | TrackBack
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