A child welfare caseworker for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is pictured in Portland on Feb. 21, 2020. Credit: Callie Ferguson / BDN

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Child protective workers are drowning. Having compassion isn’t enough. We need action.

The Legislature should pass LD 1825: “An Act to Establish Limits on the Number of Hours Worked by and Workloads of Child Protective Services Caseworkers in the Department of Health and Human Services.” LD 1825 is an opportunity for Maine to help those who serve our most vulnerable populations.

A survey of child welfare caseworkers found that employees reported having too many cases to manage, and nearly a third worried that the high caseloads put children in danger. Eighty percent said they needed to put in extra, unpaid time to complete paperwork at least three times a week; 39 percent said they had to do so every day.

The Department of Health and Human Services released their  2022 annual Office of Child and Family Services Workload Report in which they acknowledged that they average a 5.2% vacancy rate of all caseworker positions. This represents a current need of about 33 additional caseworkers to meet the workload needs associated with the current child protective caseloads in Maine. As a result, the workload of the 33 lacking individuals is being dispersed among the remaining staff who are working at full capacity.

There is a growing generation of social workers who will no longer accept employment conditions in which they are overworked. If we hope to encourage social workers to work in Maine’s child protective system, we must provide them with the incentives and protection needed.

This bill is an opportunity to address overworked child protective workers and allow them to adequately protect the children of Maine.

Danielle Keister

Social work graduate student