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Bello: firm will review Child Protective Services 

In 2018, as then-Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo initiated her plan to tackle long-standing problems in the county’s overburdened Child Protective Services department, the state recommended bringing in an independent monitor.

On Monday, two years later, County Executive Adam Bello announced that the county had hired the Bonadio Group, a local accounting and consulting firm, to serve as that monitor.

click to enlarge County Executive Adam Bello announced that the county has hired the Bonadio Group to serve as a monitor of its Child Protective Services - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • County Executive Adam Bello announced that the county has hired the Bonadio Group to serve as a monitor of its Child Protective Services
“I look forward to their recommendations and know that their work will help us achieve lasting, sustainable change so that we can better meet our profound responsibility to help keep children in our community safe,” Bello said.

He spoke from the atrium of the County Office Building alongside Deputy County Executive for Health and Human Services Corinda Crossdale.

Throughout the year, Crossdale explained, Bonadio will work with the state Office of Child and Family Services and the county’s Child Protective Services to examine and make recommendations regarding practices and procedures. She said county officials are giving Bonadio “full and unrestricted access to all child protective personnel and documentation.”

The firm will look at the CPS intake process, how cases are assigned to caseworkers, follow-up process, and caseloads, Bello said. It will also work to determine what level of staffing is necessary and the effectiveness of employee retention programs.

“These are very hard jobs and can be very taxing on our employees,” Bello said. “We want to make sure we’re doing what we can to keep them.”

Bello said he became aware of the state’s recommendation that the county hire a monitor upon taking office in January and reviewing Dinolfo’s CPS improvement plan. He contended the Dinolfo administration was slow to act, noting that while the county eventually got around to contracting with Bonadio last August, it never implemented the monitor.

Bello said his administration moved quickly to bring Bonadio “on board” and that the firm started its monitoring work in January.

The county’s Child Protective Services has long been under state and public scrutiny, in large part because of persistent vacancies and high caseloads.

By 2015, CPS was seeing an increase in reports of physical abuse, maltreatment, or child sexual abuse. It received approximately 8,900 reports that year, up from around 7,550 in 2013 and a few years prior.
The department was also losing caseworkers, leading to heavy caseloads for the remaining staff. That year, the state found 13 regulatory and statutory deficiencies in the department and required it to develop an improvement plan.

Then, in 2016, public scrutiny of CPS intensified after 3-year-old Brook Stagles died of abuse-related injuries. County caseworkers had investigated reports of maltreatment and found nothing that warranted intervention.

Dinolfo responded in October 2017 with a plan — and funding in her 2018 budget proposal — to train a new class of caseworkers, increase pay for all caseworkers, purchase technology that allowed caseworkers to file reports from the field, and to implement staff retention programs. Her goal was to reduce vacancies and caseloads.

Those efforts have yielded progress.

Crossdale said that caseloads had dropped to about 20 per caseworker from a high of around 30. She added that the department has fewer overdue cases and that more investigations are “being completed within the regulatory guidelines.”

Bello said he wants to get caseloads down to 12 to 15 cases per worker, which is in line with standards widely accepted by child welfare organizations. Bello said he was hopeful that the monitoring by Bonadio would help the county get to that level.

“We can just start throwing everything at this problem in different directions, but unless you’re doing it as a comprehensive plan that’s also sustainable, you’re not really fixing the problem,” Bello said.

Jeremy Moule is CITY’s news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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