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York County's salary board approved six new positions for the struggling Children, Youth and Families Office, which has been operating on a downgraded provisional license for more than a year and is dealing with a historically high number of reports of suspected child abuse.

The new positions include five new caseworkers and one supervisor in the agency's intake unit. The county likely will have to fully fund the roughly $220,000 in salaries for the positions, which are normally largely covered by the state, for about a year.

In June, the state Department of Human Services issued the county CYF its fourth downgraded provisional license, a rarity in the state. If the agency doesn't correct its problems by its next inspection, the DHS will take over day-to-day operations.

The new caseworkers will be paid about $17 hourly, for a combined yearly cost of just less than $180,000 for the five employees, and the supervisor will be paid $40,701 a year.

The board approved the new positions at its weekly meeting Wednesday.

Cost: The state typically supplies about 80 percent of funding for county CYFs and could kick in a large portion of the needed funding.

But since lawmakers just approved the budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, the county likely will have to pick up the tab through June unless the state increases its allocation, said Mark Derr, the county administrator, during an interview after the meeting. He added that the county hasn't received word on what the allocation will be.

York County will dip into a roughly $800,0000 reserve fund to cover the cost in the meantime, he said.

The county agency, as well as others across the state, has witnessed a drastic increase in referrals since the start of 2015, when the far-reaching rewrite of Pennsylvania's child protection laws took full effect. The changes redefined child abuse, expanded the list of mandatory reporters and streamlined the reporting process, among other changes, which led to the dramatic bump in referrals.

From January through May this year, the county received 2,051 referrals, compared to 1,138 received during the same five months in 2014. In the first five months of 2015, the number of referrals was 1,851.

That's coupled with high employee turnover. The agency hired 64 new caseworkers over the past 16 months, but 21 of the positions already have been vacated. It's recommended that a caseworker is assigned about 12 cases at a time, but a caseworker in York often is assigned as many as 30 cases.

"We need to have enough people so they (caseworkers) aren't overwhelmed," said President Commissioner Susan Byrnes after the meeting.

Other hirings: Last week, commissioners agreed to pay $60,000 through the end of the year for Bev Mackereth, the former head of the state Department of Public Welfare, to help at the office.

Mackereth, who started as a caseworker in the same agency in the 1980s, was elected to the state House in 2000 and left the position in 2008 to become director of York County's Department of Human Services, which oversees CYF. She was selected by former Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011 to head the state Department of Public Welfare, now known as the state Department of Human Services.

"It's all hands on deck until we get more people on deck," Byrnes said.

Also on Wednesday, the salary board approved hiring 12 new part-time corrections officers for the county prison.

The new hires will be paid about $19 an hour and will work 16 hours a week for an estimated yearly cost of about $190,000.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.

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