A little more than two months after Service Access and Management (SAM) Inc. took over management of Bradford County Children and Youth Services, bringing the department up to full staff remains a priority.
As Bradford County Human Services Director Mayme Carter and SAM Inc.’s Children and Youth Statewide Administrator Nancy Clemens recently reported to the Bradford County Commissioners, the county still has three of its 11 Civil Service caseworker positions to fill while SAM Inc. is still recruiting for six of its 10 caseworker positions dedicated to the county.
“When we came on board we had a significant number of vacancies on both sides of the house,” Clemens said. “Since we began recruiting, the county has had several workers return who were prior caseworkers.”
“The nice thing about being the company that we are is that we have workers in other counties, so we’ve been supplementing the Bradford County workforce with support from other SAM employees,” Clemens added. “And I want to stress that two months in, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be where we are.”
Bradford County Commissioners approved a contract with SAM Inc. in March for $400,000 for the remaining fiscal year, and then $2.1 million per year over the next three years, to help recruit and retain employees and provide more resources for the county’s CYS program. SAM Inc. began operating in the county in May.
“It’s not a problem that’s unique to Bradford County, it’s across the commonwealth,” said Commissioner Chairman Daryl Miller about recruitment. “The whole state is experiencing, and has for some time, a shortage of case workers.”
One of the key challenges over the past decade has come in the form of drastically increased reporting of suspected child abuse spurred by legislation passed in response to the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Instead of employees reporting suspected child abuse to their supervisors, they are now required to directly report it to investigators.
According to state date, this resulted in a 65% increase of reported child abuse allegations between 2010 and 2015, although around 15% of those cases were substantiated.
“We had a work load that was handed down from the state that was unreasonable for any sixth class county to do,” said Commissioner Doug McLinko. “Anyone who goes to work everyday or employs anybody knows we’re in a horrible workforce environment, so we decided as commissioners we could do everything we could to help some tremendous employees who are there.”
To help support the department, commissioners implemented wage increases over the course of five years that resulted in CYS caseworker IIs – or those coming in with either Bachelor’s Degrees in human services or those with applicable degrees and appropriate experience – making 12% more than caseworkers in other county human service departments, according to officials. There were also efforts to improve the work environment for CYS by separating it from other human services.
However, as McLinko noted, there were also some that contributed to bad morale in the department.
“The atmosphere is getting better, the support is getting better. It is going to be a great place and is already on its way with work from SAM Inc. We’ve had key hires from people who have come back to the county and ones that have shifted to the county,” said McLinko.
SAM Inc. and the county are currently working to transition Becca Walters as CYS director, who Bradford County Human Services Director Mayme Carter said “is stellar and is going to give us a lot of stability.”
“Our supervisors that are in place, our supervisors that stayed and supervisors that SAM hired are impressive, show great leadership and positivity – even on our worst days they see a light at the end of the tunnel and are being so supportive to the case workers who are doing double duty right now,” Carter explained. “But we have a wealth of experience and some really impressive staff that are working hard, working together to address the issues in our community.”
Although they have experienced some growing pains during the transition, Carter said they meet every Tuesday to address any concerns from the prior week.
“One thing that Bradford County, like any rural county, struggles with is is the availability of service providers in the community,” said Clemens. “That continues to be a struggle for us and it is one of our goals, to improve the amount of services we have in the community that allow us to serve families in their homes and keep children with their moms and dads whenever possible.”
In response to some rumors, county officials noted that there have been no talks or plans for SAM Inc. to take over the entire human services department.
“It’s not even been a thought,” said McLinko.