MOREHEAD CITY — Carteret County Department of Social Services Director Clint Lewis said this month his agency continues to struggle with a high turnover rate, with much of that in the child welfare division.
“In child protective services, at one point this past year we had a 69 percent turnover. That hurts tremendously,” Mr. Lewis said during the County Consolidated Human Services meeting Monday, held via Zoom.
For the entire agency, which includes multiple sub-departments, the turnover rate in the last six months has averaged 29%, he added.
In an annual report on DSS services, Mr. Lewis said he attributes the main reason for the high turnover rate to burnout caused by the long hours, paperwork and severity of cases the agency sees.
Mr. Lewis, in a recent interview with the News-Times, said other sub-departments, such as adult protective services, are also seeing an increase in the number and severity of cases.
One way the agency is coping with the loss in positions is by hiring temporary, trained contract personnel.
“This has actually been working very well,” Mr. Lewis said. “They are getting training with our agency while they are contracting with us and we are able to fill positions more quickly from a qualified pool. We are able to see the person’s work ahead of time in the event there is a permanent opening they want to fill.”
Consolidated Human Services Director Cindy Holman, too, acknowledged the turnover rate has been a challenge she continues to battle.
“It feels like a hamster running in a wheel and not being able to get your feet on the ground,” she said. “At one point last year, we had nine vacancies. We are working hard to recruit and keep our workers.”
Ms. Holman echoed Mr. Lewis’ report that things she sees affecting child welfare employees is the increased difficulty of the cases, coupled with reams of paperwork and long hours. Plus, now there is the added stress of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This isn’t just happening here, it’s happening across the nation,” she said.
Mr. Lewis said many of the child protection cases also involve family members dealing with substance abuse issues.
“Until we get the opioid addiction under control, it’s difficult to solve the other problems that may be occurring in a family,” he said.
Substance abuse-related issues continue to add to an increased demand on the foster care system, as well, Mr. Lewis said.
While it’s discouraging, Ms. Holman said she and her staff continue to recruit and look for ways to improve the demands on child welfare workers and other employees.
“We are charged with keeping children safe,” Ms. Holman said. “We keep at it and try to fill those vacancies.”
Board member and school psychologist Carol Armistead said she was concerned about the issue because she sees an increased need for child welfare services in her line of work.
“Since (COVID-19), I’ve seen an increase in dysfunctional families and (the department is) losing the workforce that we desperately need. We really need double the workers we have,” Ms. Armistead said.
In other action, the Human Services Board:
- Voted to accept a $164,853 allocation through the Division of Public Health, Communicable Disease Branch to enhance COVID-19 detection activities.
- Approved the Carteret County Work First Plan update.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.