Oregon's System for Allocating Casework Staff

Introduction

The State Office for Services to Children and Families (SCF) is responsible for providing services to abusive and neglectful families and their children. SCF assesses allegations of abuse and neglect, provides remedial protective services for at-risk families and provides supportive services for children in substitute care.

Presently there are 38 branch offices, and approximately 600 caseworkers. This level of funding precludes SCF from providing services to all of Oregon's needy children and families. The level of service available within a given community is largely a function of the number of casework staff and the number of abusive and neglectful families requiring SCF services. Some branch offices have a disproportionate amount of resources relative to the size and difficulty of their caseload; these branch offices are able to offer services to less vulnerable children than other branch offices. The objective of this allocation system is to promote good casework practice and provide equitable services in all branch offices.

This research-based system for allocating child welfare staff distributes new staff provided by the legislature, identifies where staff will be removed when staff resources are reduced, and redeploys existing staff. Generally speaking, branches with the ability to serve only the most vulnerable children gain staff while branches with the capability to serve less vulnerable children lose staff. Additionally, incentives are provided to minimize the number of children entering out-of-home care, return children home from substitute care when ever possible, and ensure children remain safe at home.

Components of the Allocation System

Staff allocation involves the agency's two major child welfare programs: In-Home Services, which include Protective Services and Remedial Protective Services; and Out-of-Home Services, which include children placed in foster care, shelter care or residential treatment. Staffing resources are divided into three mutually exclusive categories: Protective Services, Remedial Protective Services, and Out-of-Home care. Different components are used to allocate each type of casework staff. Protective Service workers represent 29% of the casework staff, Remedial Protective Service workers represent 15% of the casework staff, and Out-of-Home staff represent 56% of Oregon's casework staff.

Allocation of Protective Service Staff:

The allocation of Protective Service staff is determined by the relative severity of abuse/neglect alleged by referents phoning local branch offices and the time required to assess the different types of abuse/neglect allegations.

Caseload Profile

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Time Required to Assess Allegations

(Audio-Taping Project)

 

(Worker Activity Survey)


Incoming Protective Services calls and the associated collateral contacts are periodically audio-taped at the various SCF branches. A committee, consisting of current and retired Protective Services workers, reviews the tapes and determines whether a referral or a Protective Services assessment was warranted. These assessments are then used to recognize the Protective Services caseload for each branch. Branches capable of assessing allegations not assessed by other branch offices tend to lose staff ; branches serving only the most severe types of abuse and neglect tend to gain staff.

Secondly, the amount of time required to investigate different types of abuse and neglect is calculated. Statewide averages are generated using data from Worker Activity Survey, an enhancement of the federally mandated Random Moment Survey, and results from the audio taping project. Branches required to investigate a disproportionate number of time consuming types of abuse/neglect (i.e. threat of harm, sexual abuse) tend to gain staff; branches with a disproportionate number of less time consuming investigations (i.e. abandonment) tend to lose staff.

Branches with disproportionately more Protective Services resources (relative to their caseload) have the ability to assess allegations of less serious abuse and neglect than branches with relatively fewer staffing resources. The audio-taping project, in conjunction with the Worker Activity Survey, provides an indication of relative Protective Service staffing needs. This serves as a basis for the redeployment of staff to ensure that a consistent level of Child Protective Services are available throughout the state.

Allocation of Remedial Protective Services Staff:

Remedial Protective Services are services provided to intact families where a child is at risk for placement into foster care. Remedial Protective Services staff are allocated among branches according to the relative difficulty of the caseload. This formula includes both the percentage of the children classified as Levels 1-5 on the "Level of Vulnerability" scale and a score representing the "Risk of Removal."

Vulnerability of the Caseload

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Risk of Removal

(% Case identified as Levels 1-5)

 

(Weighted Family Factors)


A child welfare priority system has been developed to recognize a child's "Level of Vulnerability." SCF administration, program managers and researchers created the Level of Vulnerability scale in 1990. There are seven levels on the priority system. Level 1 includes the most severe abuse and neglect cases: life threatening neglect, abandoned or orphaned children, siblings of children who have died from of abuse or neglect, severe familial sexual abuse, and severe physical abuse. The least vulnerable children are categorized as Level 7: chronic acting-out teenagers, teenage youth exposed to chronic neglect, teenage victims of mild physical abuse, court ordered services where no severe or moderate abuse has occurred, and voluntary requests for services where abuse, neglect, or threat of harm are not apparent. Younger and therefore more vulnerable children are associated with higher levels of vulnerability (Levels 1-3), while the older children, who are better able to protect themselves from severe and moderate abuse, are assigned to the lower levels of the scale (Levels 4-7). This "Level of Vulnerability" system acknowledges the severity of abuse and age of the victim.

Researchers review a statewide sample of Remedial Protective Services cases and document both the Level of Vulnerability of the children and the existence of family problems. The percentage of children classified as Levels 1-5 on the Level of Vulnerability scale is one measure of the caseload difficulty.

A "risk of removal" score constitutes the second component used for allocating Remedial Protective Service staff. Family problems or "Factors" are characteristics or situations that negatively affect or burden a family (i.e., unemployment, drug/alcohol involvement, inadequate housing and single parenthood). In general, families with more Factors are more likely to need SCF services than those with fewer Factors. In addition, some Factors are more related to a child being removed from homes than other factors. These Factors are "weighted" according to their association with the risk of removal. Factors that are much more prevalent with Out-of-Home families than the Remedial Protective Service families receive larger weights. Factors equally prevalent in both the Remedial Protective Service and the Out-of-Home populations have weights approximating zero. A Family Factor total or "risk of removal" is calculated for each family and average scores are generated for each branch office.

Combining the Level of Vulnerability and "risk of removal" score provides an estimate of the relative difficulty of the remedial protective service caseload in each branch office. An effort to equalize the availability of Remedial Protective services across the state requires that those branches capable of serving less difficult children lose staff to those branches unable to offer services to those same types of families.

Allocation of Out-of-Home Care Staff:

Out-of-Home Service staff are allocated among branches according to the severity of abuse, and the child's age (Level of Vulnerability). The Return Home Rate and the Re-Abuse Rate are also included in the formula to encourage the timely and safe return of children to their homes.

Vulnerability of the Caseload

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Return Home Rate

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Re-Abuse Rate

(% cases identified Levels 1-5)

 

(% returned home
within 1 yr)

 

(% re-abused
within 1 yr)


Researchers review case records and document the child's Level of Vulnerability, whether the child returned home in the year after removal and whether the child was abused after returning home. As with the Remedial Protective Services allocation formula, the percentage of children classified as Level 1-5 is used as one measure of caseload difficulty.

The Return Home Rate is included to encourage family unification efforts. Return Home Rate is the percentage of children returned home in the year after removal. Considering branch offices serve markedly different populations, return home rates are "adjusted" to recognize the different client populations served in each branch office. The Return Home Rate score for any given branch is calculated by comparing actual and expected Return Rates. Expected Rates are generated by analyzing statewide data and recognizing the difficulty of children and parents being served. Branches serving the most difficult client populations are not expected to return the same proportion of children as branches serving less difficult populations.

Re-abuse rate is the third component used for allocating out-of-home staff. Inclusion of the re-abuse rate is intended to temper the incentive for caseworkers to prematurely or inappropriately return children to their homes. Re-abuse rate is the percentage of children re-abused in the year after returning home.

This formula for allocating Out-of-Home staff includes a measure of caseload difficulty and incentives to promote good casework practice. Branches who serve more difficult families and safely return more children home will gain staff.

Conclusions

Oregon's research-based allocation system is continually evolving. The current system allocates Protective Service workers, Remedial Protective Service workers, and Out-of -Home workers. Portland State University is currently designing studies to include additional components in the allocation system to promote good casework practice and recognize other indicators of workload. One proposed change involves rewarding branches for developing permanency plans for children who will not be returned home.

The agency administration has learned the most effective and favorable method of impacting field behavior is not through memos or policy but rather through inclusion of different components in the staff allocation system. Field staff recognize the relationship between components in the allocation system and the number of staff in their branch office. The administration can change the field emphasis from minimizing the number of children entering care to encouraging branches to return children home; this is accomplished by reducing the influence of Level of Vulnerability and increasing the influence of return home rate. Thus this research-based allocation system has been used as a management tool to influence field behavior while simultaneously promoting good casework practice.

 


Updated 2/4/00
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