CPS is hiring: High-stress agency’s vacancy rate is twice as big as Sacramento County’s unemployment rate

Oversight committee’s report finds slow but steady progress

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the June 29, 2017, issue.

Child Protective Services has been on a hiring spree, but vacancy rates at the scrutinized agency still more than double Sacramento County’s unemployment rate, according to state and local figures.

CPS was the subject of another annual report to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on May 23. The reports from an oversight committee have been an annual tradition for two decades, but drew lightning-rod attention in recent years, after a cluster of high-profile deaths involving children who came into contact with the agency but weren’t saved.

While the 2016 report showed CPS still struggling with coordinating care through a shortage of public health nurses and specialized detectives working child abuse cases, the report uncovered no fatal flaws as in years past.

Dr. Maynard Johnston, a retired pediatrician with more than 40 years of experience, joined the oversight committee a year after its 1996 inception. Addressing supervisors, Johnston highlighted the need for more law enforcement support in regard to child safety.

“The Sacramento County Sheriff Department’s Child Abuse Bureau used to have 10 detectives on their staff, but this was reduced to seven during the county budget cuts in 2009,” Johnston said. “No new positions have been reported since that time. An additional detective would be very helpful to alleviate the workload that has developed.”

Johnston added that the committee wants to see wait times to CPS’ call center go down, and said the committee’s “high priority” next year will be making sure CPS workers more consistently consult decision-making protocols the committee recommended three years ago.

In an email, Samantha Mott, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS, noted that the crux of the report showed “significant improvements in follow-through and transparency by CPS—enabling the committee to move focus to other parts of the community including law enforcement, treatment providers, and other child and family service agencies.”

“While CPS has made significant progress, the report notes that the progress is not as far along as the Committee would have liked to see,” Mott’s email acknowledged.

The agency is still shorthanded, but not as badly as it once was.

Health and Human Services Director Sherri Heller told supervisors that CPS hiring events had brought on more than 100 social workers since January 2016. Along with increased training that has boosted retention, Heller said, the hires put a dent in CPS’ monthly vacancy rate, bringing it down from 18 percent in August 2015 to 10.8 percent almost two years later.

According to the California Employment Development Department, unemployment in Sacramento County stood at 4.2 percent in May.

“We’re a learning organization,” Heller told supervisors. “We’re not a completely perfect organization. There’s work to be done.”