The caseloads of state child-welfare investigators have "gotten out of hand," climbing so high in many cases that they no longer comply with federal requirements, an official said Wednesday.
Richard Calica, the director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said the agency needs more investigators and caseworkers and that he plans to hire additional staff.
Cook County and southern Illinois, the newspaper determined.
The newspaper analysis showed that about 64 percent of investigators statewide received more than the permitted number of new cases during at least one month last year. A deeper look at Cook County showed about 80 percent of the investigators received too many cases in multiple months in 2011.
The problem creates a backlog in which cases remain open beyond a 60-day deadline imposed under state law.
Investigators across Illinois said they should handle about 24 cases at any one time, but that the number is often in the 40s and climbing.
In a meeting with the Tribune's editorial board, Calica said he has already frozen new hires that are not in direct contact with children. He plans to increase by 125 the number of investigators and caseworkers, partly through hiring up to 60 people and by shifting existing employees into new positions, he said.
Calica said he hopes to have the caseload problem under control within two months. He expressed frustration at his inability, under terms of a union contract, to shift workers to various regions of the state where they are most needed.
"I found out relatively quickly that I am not the commander in chief of my troops," Calica said.
Anders Lindall, spokesman for Council 31 of theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Calica has yet to present his staffing plan to the union. But union leaders consider the caseload levels a "crisis" and are eager to find a solution, Lindall said.
"We're always willing to sit down with the department to hear what they may propose," he said. "However, the statewide caseload crisis will not be resolved by robbing Peter to pay Paul. Hiring a few dozen staff will not turn that trend around."
Calica said he has identified multiple layers of supervision that aren't necessary under various agency reorganizations he envisions.
"If I decide the model was ridiculous to begin with and I want to (restructure) resources, I don't think that's robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said. "I'm being meaner and leaner."
DCFS director: High caseload problem 'out of hand'
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