Hennepin County's child protection services program could get the green light for dramatic growth Tuesday, when a proposal that would add nearly 100 new staff members to help the department deal with larger case loads goes before the Hennepin County Board committee.
A county-commissioned report released last week documented the challenges facing the county's child protection system.
Every part of the program, from screening through investigation and case management, has been negatively affected by budget cuts, according to the report. Hennepin County, it said, has a higher rate of repeat maltreatment than the state as a whole, In the county, 10 percent of substantiated maltreatment cases were recurring, while statewide, 5 percent of cases were recurring.
The county board's Health and Human Services Committee will vote Tuesday afternoon on a proposal to add 98 full-time staff to county child protective services.
Rex Holzemer, Hennepin County's assistant administrator for human services, said the new staffers will help bring the county back to levels that existed before the economic downturn. Staffing and funding cuts around 2008, he said, have not grown with increased caseloads.
"It's been really difficult on staff," Holzemer said. "It's been very challenging for them to address the complex issues on these child protection cases when they've got higher numbers of cases that are realistic to handle."
The child protection program, Holzemer said, don't have the resources to match the volume of cases in front of it. He said 60 of the 98 new staffers would be social workers, of which the county now has 160.
Tuesday's staffing proposal comes on the heels of another report — from the Governor's Task Force on the Protection of Children — which spelled out 93 recommendations for revamping the state's child protection system.
The Legislature approved $52 million for child protection reforms, including money for extra staffing for counties. The new staff in Hennepin County would be funded annually with $3.6 million in county funds and $4.9 million from the new state funding.
Hennepin County Board Chair Jan Callison said case workers need more options when dealing with individual child protection cases.
"We have to open, widen the door, the portal of entry into child protection," she said. "It's too narrow right now. That relates to how we look at reports and the criteria we might use to say a child is in need of services or not in need of services."
If passed today by committee, the full county board will vote on the additional staff at its July 7 meeting.