April 16, 2014

Elyria
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Children Services to lay off 14 people

ELYRIA — A total of 14 people including 10 case aides were expected to receive layoff notices today from Lorain County Children Services.

Those layoffs are expected to take effect on or after Feb. 15, according to agency spokeswoman Patti-Jo Burtnett.

Verbal notifications went out this week to the employees, all but one of whom is represented by UAW Local 2192.

The cuts are being made because of a budget shortfall as much as $900,000.

None of the layoffs involves caseworkers, or what are known as direct services that include investigations, foster care, adoptions and protective care, according to Burtnett.

The cuts, authorized last month by the board, were deemed necessary because of increased costs, reduced state and federal funding, and an expected drop of some $684,000 in tax revenue generated by a 1.5-mill operating levy because of decreased property values.

The agency employs 130 people, of whom an estimated 75 to 80 are unionized, according to Burtnett.

The other job cuts include two file clerks, a case work supervisor and a secretary, Burtnett said.

Elimination of the 10 case aides will mean a reduction or the elimination of services such as transporting children to and from doctor appointments and supervised visits and working with families during in-home visits.

“Many services will stop,” Burtnett said. “We won’t be able to provide them anymore.”

Average salaries of case aides are $42,919, Burtnett said, not including benefits.

“All of the case aides are gone,” said Angie Martinez, who chairs Local 2192, which represents the agency’s unionized workers. “And I’m one of them. This is devastating — I have two years to retire.”

Martinez has worked 22 years as a case aide. Others who are among the 10 losing their jobs have as much or more experience, ranging from 23 to 28 years.

The loss of case aides is expected to shift more work onto caseworkers, Martinez said.

“They’ve talked about caseworker burnout,” Martinez said. “This is just one more thing to be thrown at them.”

In addition to taking children to appointments and supervised visits with parents or guardians, case aides perform other duties, including taking parents house shopping, helping them prepare home budgets and doing proper housecleaning, Martinez said.

“All of these things help to keep homes stable,” Martinez said. “Now these things are going to take longer, and caseworkers will be juggling whether to go to court or make a home visit. There were 10 of us and it was stretching us thin.”

The agency was handling close to 500 cases in December.

Over the past few years, Children Services has reduced its staff by about 25 workers and trimmed more than $3 million from its budget.

The 1.5-mill replacement levy generates about $9.5 million annually and accounts for about 50 percent of Children Services’ yearly budget of approximately $18 million.

The other half comes from federal and state money.

Last year, Children Services came under fire for mishandling a case involving Erica Perez, a pregnant Lorain woman found living in squalor with seven of her children. Her caseworker resigned, his supervisor was suspended and the agency promised to change some procedures in hopes of preventing any recurrences.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.