St. Lawrence County DSS showing improvements under new commissioner
BY JEFF CHUDZINSKI
North Country This Week
CANTON — The Department of Social Services and Child Protective Services continue to see significant improvement in multiple metrics under new commissioner Joseph Seber.
During the County Legislature’s combined services and operations meeting Seber offered an update to board members, highlighting a number of areas of improvement in recent months.For the first time in several months, total case loads for Child Protective Services caseworkers stands at 15, which is the state recommended total.
“The percent of workers with more than 15 CPS investigations went up slightly last month but that’s a misleading figure right now,” Seber said.
According to Seber, the numbers are skewed slightly right now due to one worker taking a leave of absence temporarily, leading to other case workers having to handle that worker’s cases in the short-term.
“We have also seen the number of overdue investigations continue to trend down as well,” Seber told the board.
Though figures for August were not readily available at the time of the meeting, Seber said the figures would show an even more drastic decrease in overdue investigations.
The percentage of timely safety assessments was also at 98% for the month of July, well above the state average of 82.4%, Seber said.
One statistic of note is the increase in adoption activity within the county.
Legislator Kevin Acres wanted to know what was the primary cause for the increase in activity.
“That is great we are having an increase in adoption activity. Is that because family court is acting more efficiently and with DSS legal things are more orderly and organized that these processes are happening quicker,” Acres asked.
CPS officials say the numbers are going up as a result of the streamlined processes and improved procedures, including the legal department’s ability to swiftly process the requests now.
“That’s great for the taxpayers, it’s great for the kids. They get to go to their forever homes. It’s a win-win all around,” Acres commented.
During the month of August, 278 cases were closed with 425 open cases remaining.
“Obviously that number is higher than we would like but it has declined considerably over the last few months and we are seeing it trend in the right direction,” officials said.
Additional staff, coupled with new on-boarding procedures and training have led to the decline, officials say.
One new CPS investigator is expected to begin work on Sept. 20, with two more expected to complete their training on Sept. 30, according to officials.
“This is the closest we have been to being fully staffed in some time,” officials said.
Total staffing will be 35 case workers when all positions are filled.
A total of 255 youth are in foster care currently, another decline from the previous month when 278 children were listed in foster care.
For children living in a home with relatives or a person with a relationship to the family, that figure has also increased to 128.
“These are some of the lowest numbers we have seen since July 2021 and the numbers continue to decline,” officials said.
One metric that has continued to rise is the number of new homeless placements. In 2022, a total of 63 placements have occurred compared to 39 in 2021 and just nine in 2020.
Officials say the numbers of homeless placements come from individuals who reach out to the department who say they are homeless and have nowhere else to go.
“It’s a dramatic increase. Is it because it is more well known, is it being published, are you reaching out to other resources and individuals or is there just that dramatic increase in homelessness,” Acres asked.
According to Seber, a number of homeless cases involve individuals who were living in situations with COVID protections.
“Once protections expire a lot of people have to move along and find themselves homeless again,” Seber said.
Seber said those circumstances have skewed the numbers a bit but those individuals are receiving assistance from the county.
Legislators also took action on three resolutions for DSS during the meeting.
A resolution was passed that authorizes a contract with Naviant, Inc. for software subscription and support for OnBase Unity Client Server and Unity Forms Software.
“They are a vendor that provides our imaging services that we use that we are required to have,” Seber said.
Though the name of the company has changed, Seber said the service and cost are exactly the same as previous years.
Legislators also passed a resolution to authorize a contract with Danielle Bronk, PhD, for neurological evaluations.
According to Seber, Dr. Bronk is well versed in the many needs that clients of the county may require, having worked with juveniles and veterans alike in her many years of experience.
Legislator John Burke also applauded the decision to hire Bronk, saying it was good to see someone with her skillset readily available to provide services in the county.
A third resolution was passed to authorize a contract for Qualified Individual Assessment Services.
“When youth are to go into qualified residential treatment programs it is required, pursuant to statute, that we obtain an independent assessment,” Seber said.
With the authorization of the contract, DSS will remain compliant with state regulations, Seber said.