DSS Upgrade Plan Now In Legislators’ Hands

OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego County Legislature’s Finance Health Committee gave a favorable recommendation Tuesday to the plan to improve child protective services.

Fran Lanigan, DSS commissioner, made the recommendation at last week’s Health Committee meeting, where it also received approval.

The plan, which includes proposals for increased staffing, a reduced workload for caseworkers and accepting $500,000 (“seed money”) from the state, will now go before the full legislature at its July meeting.

The cost would be, for the balance of 2009, for each caseworker – $21,174 and each senior caseworker $23,976.

“Everybody in this room would love to put millions of dollars onto a program for children. But I think we have to be prudent. It’s our job to go over this and look at it, digest it and say ‘what is the comfortable amount?'” Legislator Mike Kunzwiler said. “The pie in the sky is the 36 positions.”

He asked if it would be possible to see if there were other options before committing to this one.

“At this point, I’m not comfortable recommending anything less,” Lanigan replied.

She pointed out that the department would provide a monthly report on its progress.

It takes two years to train and develop a caseworker, Lanigan noted.

“There will be a certain number (of new hires) that will not succeed. And we will then see, as time goes on, what the staffing level needs to be,” she continued.

“What is being proposed is not a short-term fix,” she reiterated at the Finance Committee. “It is a solution, which will have impact over time.”

“We’re spending money on the hiring, but is it advantageous for us to hire fewer people and take the rest of the funds and put those in retention. We have a two-pronged problem,” Kunzwiler said. “It’s great to hire these people. But, if they’re not going to last after a couple years then we’re kind of spinning our wheels.”

The salaries aren’t really the problem (with retention), Lanigan said.

“A huge part of the problem is the workload. It burns people out very quickly,” she explained. “It’s very wearing on the soul.”

The turnover rate has slowed recently, due to the bad economy and people not wanting to risk looking for a new job, she pointed out.

The plan isn’t just throwing money at a problem, Lanigan told the health committee; it deals with management, restructuring supervision, better training and involvement of other human service agencies.

The county is also looking at forming a citizens’ advisory board to assist in keeping tabs on the progress made by DSS under the proposal.

County Administrator Phil Church said he would like to see it formed in the summer and be in place this fall.

“You’re talking about forming another committee, a citizens’ committee? I mean, the Health Committee can’t even get the information they want. What do you want to have another committee for?” Legislator Art Gearsbeck asked. “If you’re not going to open the doors up so everybody can look at the budget, see where the spending is, what good is it? What good is another committee? I’ve been requesting information since the first of the year and I’m not getting nothing!”

The committee will be monitoring the costs and that kind of thing, Kunzwiler said.

“You got to take the lock off the door and let people in there,” Gearsbeck said.

“(DSS) goes through a department audit, they go through a state audit, they go through federal audit,” Legislator Barb Brown pointed out. “I don’t think there’s anything shady in this budget. It is audited so much. I have total confidence in how we spend our money.”