Dragon Info

Child Welfare Articles

Social Worker Awareness Campaign

Overview: Providing Services on the Run

Children's Services Committee Plans Social Worker Awareness Campaign

Social Workers, Foster Kids and Community Suggest Issues

SB 2030 Findings

Special Reports

Dependency Court Overwhelmed

Social Worker Meltdown Series

Protecting Children, Restoring Families, It takes Time


July 2001
Crisis in Transitional Services for Foster Youth -- Independent Living Programs Make a Difference

Housing Is A Major Problem

Leonard Moncure and Jennifer

From Homeless to College Graduate

The social worker may be the only one you can trust

Kathy Garcia: I try to be that one adult a child can feel safe talking to.

February 2001
Assemblywoman Dion Aroner "The union needs to take leadership in providing best practices for taking care of kids and families"

Making a Difference, Jacob Ocampo takes social work to the community

September 2000
Social Worker Awareness Campaign

Riding Along with Bilingual Worker Frederick Machado

Social Worker Heartbeat

February 2000
Are Social Workers Entitled to a Life?
Just Say No to Excessive Overtime


October 1997
Caseload State of Emergency

CWS/CMS Computer Crashes Child Welfare System

Seeing Through The CWS/CMS Mess

February 1997
Adoptions:Parent v. Child

Los Angeles County:Working in the Adoption Factory

Creating New Families

June 1996
Kathleen Schormann and the Unquiet Death of Lance Helms

Family Reunification Workers Speak Out


SEIU Local 535 Dragon--Voice of  the Union-- American Federation of Nurses & Social Services Unioin

Caseload State of Emergency

by Richard Bermack

October 1997

Socail worker standing looking concerned
“I would rather take the time from my personal life and not get paid than worry about the families. I can’t sleep at night if I don’t see my kids. What if something happened? I could never justify it. I feel that I’ve signed away my life.” LA Social Worker Pablo Sandoval

“If you spend 15 minutes interviewing a kid, you feel good. You’re lucky if one hour a day is spent with clients, the rest is paper work,” according to Diana Flanagan, a family maintenance and reunification supervisor in Los Angeles County, where caseload problems are the worst. Stress levels are so high that workers are leaving the department at alarming rates. Out of a total of 2,600 workers in Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, 26 left in a single month. “We can’t function because the caseload is out of hand,” Flanagan reported. “As a supervisor you are responsible for every child, but we get calls and our workers are so overwhelmed that it can take two or three weeks before they can go out, and by then the family has disappeared.”


“We want to be good workers, dedicated to child safety,” Flanagan continues, “but the court and the department are micromanaging us to the point our workload is out of our control. The department head feels we should surpass the state standards of services for our clients at the same time we are way over the caseload standards. It is unrealistic. And then if something happens to a child, the worker is held responsible.”

The state attempted to set standards, a yardstick, for the number of cases a worker can reasonably service per month. The last study was done in 1982. Workers in Los Angeles report current caseloads of 50% to 100% above the 1982 figures.


To: Supervisor __________
From: ______
Re: Caseload

On ___ you assigned __ cases to my caseload. This brings my current caseload to __ children. At this level, although I will make my best effort, I am no longer able to provide mandated services to the families and children in my caseload. Nor am I able to meet the court’s demands (notice of hearings, parent searches, court reports).

This leaves the Department of Social Services open to being sanctioned and fined by the court. Most importantly, I am unable to adequately monitor the well-being and safety of the ___ children in my caseload.

I request that my caseload be reduced to a manageable level no greater than the levels for my task area recommended by the State of California.

CC: Director of Social Service
Board of Supervisors
SEIU Local 535


But that is not the whole picture. The amount of work per case has increased astronomically since 1982. Part of the problem has been that the federal government and the state have mandated more and more services be provided to clients but have not fully funded the delivery of the services, so social workers have been forced to make up the difference. Workers also reported the problems confronting their clients are much more complex as a result of the hard-drug epidemic and deteriorating economic conditions that have arisen since 1982.
As a result, workers find themselves working long hours and Saturdays and Sundays, many times without getting paid. As one emergency response worker in Los Angeles County explained, “I’m supposed to be off work at 5 p.m., but if I still have two more cases, I might go until 6 or 7 p.m., and I’ll be told I can’t put it on my time card because it wasn’t pre-approved. But if I don’t see the kids and something happens, who does it fall on? I’ve been assigned cases that were five or 10 days old. They were already past the mandated time limit when I got them.”

Los Angeles County dependency investigator Pablo Sandoval regularly works Saturdays and Sundays and recently canceled a long-awaited trip to Mexico. “I would rather take the time from my personal life and not get paid than worry about the families,” he stated. “I can’t sleep at night if I don’t see my kids. What if something happened? I could never justify it. I feel that I’ve signed away my life.” Recently an 8th grader in Sandoval’s caseload was killed. “He was shot right between the eyes. I had told him if he kept on doing what he was doing he wasn’t going to make it to 18. I feel like there is something I should have done. It took me out mentally for a few days.”

To protect themselves and put pressure on the department, workers in Los Angeles and Fresno counties have begun sending their supervisors memos advising that caseloads are so far above the yardstick level that the workers no longer feel that they can adequately monitor the safety and well being of the children.

The Court

social worker
“When I first started, it took approximately six to eight weeks to make a plan for a drug baby.... Those same cases are now running anywhere from eight to 15 months. That is a big difference, and it is not helpful for the child.”
Rachel Simon,Los Angeles child welfare supervisor

One of the major factors workers cited for the increased workload is the adversarial nature of dependency court, which many social workers claim requires them to do the work of paralegals as well as social workers.

“We need a total redesign of the courts. Twelve years ago we did mediation; we all met and decided what was good for the child—Yes, the parents were bad, what can we do to get them back on track and what is the best plan for the kids,” explains Los Angeles child welfare supervisor Rachel Simon. “It has now become so litigious that the attorneys act like criminal lawyers, whose only concern is to win the case, cut the best deal for the client, and make their client look good. It’s no longer a matter of ‘you weren’t a very good parent, and this will help you and help you get your kids.’ It’s not supposed to be about guilt or innocence.”

“More and more evidence needs to be presented, and that falls on the social workers, even though we are not attorneys. Our reports are not designed to be fact findings of guilt or innocence, but to be social studies on how to help the family.

“When I first started, it took approximately six to eight weeks to make a plan for a drug baby. No one would argue. The mother was positive for drugs, the baby was positive for drugs at the birth, mom would go in and say, ‘yes I do use, help me.’ Six to eight weeks from the date of detention we had a case plan where the mother could start working on getting her child back. Those same cases are now running anywhere from eight to 15 months. That is a big difference, and it is not helpful for the child.”

Tony Bravo, Los Angeles children's service worker continued, “We have clients who are told by their attorneys not to talk to the social worker, not to agree to any service plan, don’t admit to anything that may implicate you, don’t cooperate. We get cases with orders that say the CSW is not to discuss the case with the parents. It is no longer about helping kids.”

Tensions between the court and DCFS have turned into near warfare in Los Angeles County. In a recent development, the court has started ordering workers to report all details of each case immediately, not only to the court, but also to the child’s attorney. Los Angeles child welfare worker and bargaining team member Sara Bottorff explains that this is a substantial increase in workload that the department is trying to place on the workers. The union has filed an unfair labor charge. “It is a very dangerous precedent. Anytime the department wants to get around the contract, it could meet with the court and have the court make an order,” she warns.

In addition to the unfair labor charge, the union is pursuing other legal challenges to the court action, including taking the matter to the California attorney general.