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Agency blames caseworker turnover on pay, scrutiny

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Indiana's Department of Child Services on Wednesday blamed a combination of low pay and job stress stemming from media coverage of the agency for an increasing turnover rate among child caseworkers.

DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan accused Indiana media outlets of singling out caseworkers for criticism, though he didn't provide examples. Scrutiny of the department has grown in the last year as newspaper investigations have detailed numerous child deaths.

"It's perfectly OK to criticize the department," Ryan told members of the State Budget Committee. "When you start to criticize family case managers individually, that gets to them."

Turnover among caseworkers increased from 17 percent last year to 19 percent, according to the department's annual report submitted Wednesday to the committee, which includes lawmakers and officials from the governor's administration.

The annual report makes the same statement that media coverage of the department hurt morale, but makes no mention of individual caseworkers being targeted.

The South Bend Tribune was among the newspapers reporting on the agency. DCS in March lost its court fight against the newspaper to keep details of a May 2011 call to the state's child abuse hotline secret. The call detailed abuse in a South Bend home where 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis was beaten to death last November.

DCS spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland pointed to a story about Sturgis' death as an example of the media targeting individual caseworkers. However, the Tribune story did not include the name of that caseworker.

Ryan told the panel that along with media coverage, low pay was cited in anonymous employee surveys as a top reason they were leaving the agency. Starting pay for caseworkers, he said, is at about $33,500.

"How much more than that would make a noticeable difference in retention?" asked Budget Committee Chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale.

Ryan said a 10-percent increase would help. He estimated his agency spends about $60 million annually on caseworker salaries.

Ryan's arguments on Wednesday mirror similar criticism that Gov. Mitch Daniels made at a meeting of DCS employees, where he accused the media of distorting the agency's troubles.

DCS has suffered through state budget cuts like most other state agencies in the last few years. The department was cut by $100 million in the 2011 budget, and cut by $16 million in the 2012 budget.

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  • Case Workers
    So many parents are so totally broken or are using behavior changing drugs, that they abuse and neglect their kids. It's impossible for any government agency to keep track of every person who goes off the deep end. Maybe you would like to have a low paying job that requires you to put your life in danger every day? The stress must be unbearable. If we could only know exactly what goes on inside of every parent's home, maybe we could remove endangered kids before their own PARENTS kill them.
  • You're Kidding - Right?
    The media did it! Are you kidding me? Now I am guessing that transparency is too intrusive when it comes to certain government agencies. As for the salary issue, it was well defined in the initial job description, along with the requirements for the job. If a salary increase is required, perhaps the agency could refer to it as "media intrusion allowance pay" and the job description can point out that the enemy is statewide media personnel. I apologize to all, I would have thought of improved communication training for department personnel before blaming outside agencies that just ask tough questions.

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