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Group flags abuse report trends 

The Monroe County's Department of Human Services estimates that it'll field more than 8,900 reports of child abuse and neglect in 2016.

The number has been rising since at least 2008, when the county received 7,453 such reports, according to budget documents. Typically, around 90 percent of the reports involve neglect allegations, while fewer than 10 percent center on physical abuse. In total, about 25 percent of the reports are substantiated.

Child neglect and abuse reports are on the rise across the country, says Carrie Andrews, the County Legislature's Democratic minority leader.

The Children's Agenda, a local youth-focused policy advocacy group, says that the trend coincides with another troubling fact: even though the number of abuse and neglect reports is going up in Monroe County, the number of caseworkers at the county's Child Protective Services is not. That means that department staff face increasingly heavy workloads.

"Obviously, our biggest concern is for the welfare of the children involved," says Brigit Hurley, a policy analyst with The Children's Agenda. "Nobody wants one of those horrible headlines where a child has actually died or been seriously injured in a family where there's been a child abuse investigation happening."

The Federation of Social Workers, the union that represents the Child Protective caseworkers, says in its July newsletter that average individual caseloads are up significantly compared to the same month last year. In May 2014, the average caseload per worker was 17.2, the union says, and it increased to 24.7 by May 2015.

A county spokesperson didn't respond to questions on the issue. But in a plan submitted to the state, the county Department of Human Services acknowledges that unfilled caseworker jobs are an ongoing problem. The plan also says that overdue Child Protective investigations increased by an average of 60.6 percent in 2014, which is pegged to high staff vacancy rates.

In the plan, DHS officials say that they "will be exploring various strategies to increase staff retention and caseload size reduction." It's not clear whether the county is intentionally leaving the vacancies unfilled, or whether the openings are languishing.

The recently-approved 2016 county budget does not indicate that DHS plans to hire more Child Protective workers, Andrews says.

Many of the abuse and neglect reports are related to a parent's lack of resources, Hurley says, which can be addressed by better funding support programs such as food and housing assistance, child day care subsidies, or home visitation programs such as the Nurse Family Partnership.

"Parent stress really impacts kids," Hurley said, "and so if we could take action to remove some of the stresses from families, particularly families who are struggling with poverty, that is a direct benefit to the child."

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