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Ohio Caseworkers: First Responders for Families in Crisis

Ohio caseworkers help families struggling with opiate addiction, homelessness and other troubles.  Courtesy: PCSAO
Ohio caseworkers help families struggling with opiate addiction, homelessness and other troubles.
Courtesy: PCSAO
October 19, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Caseworkers tend to Ohio children in desperate times, but some people in the field say there are not enough of them available to meet the needs of families in crisis.

Keisha Savage, a caseworker with Franklin County Children Services, explains that she and other caseworkers respond to Ohio families grappling with opiate addiction, homelessness, domestic violence and other troubles. And she says many people become caseworkers because they want to help, not realizing what it entails.

"We're working 40, 60 hours a week,” she states. “We're getting called at home at nights and on weekends about cases.

“Our job is dangerous. We are first responders. We're the first people called when children are hurt. We do good work to try to keep children safe with limited resources."

A lack of caseworkers isn't the problem, according to Savage, but rather the high turnover rate. She says it takes about two years of experience to become fully versed in the field, but many caseworkers leave after being on the job for less than a year.

A study from the Public Children Services Association of Ohio found caseworkers spend about 75 percent of their time on only 35 percent of their caseload, meaning some families don't receive as much attention as others when caseloads are too high.

And Savage notes high turnover also impacts veteran caseworkers.

"We have a lot of tools, we have a lot of technology, but our workload just increases,” she explains. “And with not being able to retain seasoned, trained staff it just makes it more difficult for the workers that are here because we fall on them a lot."

Savage adds that limited resources restrict the ability of caseworkers to empower families and keep children safe.

"Having more time, having more skilled workers that are able to work with families that know what the resources are, that know how to use tools effectively, efficiently,” she stresses. “That is what is going to benefit families."

Along with other child welfare organizations, the Public Children Services Association of Ohio is reaching out to legislators to expose the challenges facing caseworkers and develop solutions.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH