The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families said it will hire an additional 23 frontline workers to help reduce worker caseloads. 

The announcement comes just one day before a House Oversight Committee hearing to review whether the department is making changes recommended by the Office of the Child Advocate in a Child Fatality Report released in June. 

The final recommendation of that report was: “The Department should hire additional front-line staff in all divisions.” And DCYF staff deposed by the Child Advocate testified that staffing shortages made it difficult for DCYF’s licensing department to “do the proper assessments or investigations.” 

DCYF announced the department plans to hire the following staff:

  • 17 Social Caseworkers (12 for the Family Services Unit and 5 for the Kinship Licensing Unit)
  • 3 Frontline Supervisors (2 for the Family Services Unit and 1 for the Kinship Licensing Unit)
  • 3 Child Support Technicians (2 for the Family Services Unit and 1 for the Kinship Licensing Unit)

The department estimated the added staff will cost $1.8 million in state funds for the 2020 fiscal year.

Currently, the average number of cases that a social caseworker at DCYF is responsible is about 18. That’s compared to national guidelines that recommend a maximum of 14 cases per social caseworker. 

The department has tried other strategies to reduce caseloads, including increasing the focus on finding permanent homes for kids in foster care and investing in support services to prevent kids from being removed in the first place, said outgoing director Trista Piccola. 

“But ultimately you have to keep looking at staff,” Piccola said. “Do we have enough staff, depending on the workload that's been coming in? Right now that's something that we have to keep looking at.”

The union representing DCYF workers has also planned a rally ahead of the House Oversight Committee meeting Thursday calling for caseload reductions.

Kathy McElroy, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 580, said the 23 hires will be a step in the right direction. But added, "As to whether this is enough to reduce caseload and workload in the department across the board, I think we need to reevaluate periodically to see where we are and where we need to go."