State Agency Falls Behind On Child Abuse Investigations

Wednesday, December 5th 2007, 9:12 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The state agency charged with investigating child abuse and neglect complaints is having trouble retaining employees and is taking longer to resolve cases. The Department of Human Services had 363 child welfare referrals pending for more than 60 days in October 2007, which is more than double the 179 referrals that the agency had pending for that length of time in October 2006, according to records presented Tuesday at a DHS commission meeting.

Although the Legislature authorized DHS to hire 100 new child welfare employees in 2006, the agency only had 999 child welfare employees working in October 2007, 23 fewer than the 1,022 who were working in the same month a year earlier. Larry Johnson, who is in charge of field operations for the agency, said employee turnover is a problem.

``The majority of the staff probably has less than two years' experience,'' Larry Johnson said. ``We have been trying to hire everywhere we can.''

Johnson said the agency has been running ads and recruiting at colleges.

DHS director Howard Hendrick said officials have authorized workers in certain regions to work overtime to try to eliminate the backlog, but working long hours contributes to on-the-job stress, which can lead to higher employee turnover.

The difficulty of the work makes it hard to retain employees.

Hendrick said he is confident the agency would catch up on the backlog.

It takes time to resolve complaints made when summer vacation ends and children return to school, where signs of abuse and neglect are more apt to be seen and reported by others, he said.