York County plans to spend $1 million to bolster failing child welfare office

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County plans to use federal COVID aid to help address staffing shortages at its child welfare office that workers said left children in peril.

President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, in announcing the plan Wednesday, said the use of $1 million to help pay for recruitment and retention efforts was an interim step toward fixing the county's Youth Development Center and Children, Youth and Families offices.

"This is certainly a piece of the puzzle," she said. "We have worked on other things."

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In November, current and former employees told The York Dispatch that they feared at-risk children would fall through the cracks amid a toxic work environment that forced some under-qualified employees to take on new roles as child abuse investigators.

"The concern is we’re going to have some dead children," one former worker told the Dispatch at the time.

The York County Board of Commissioners approved a plan Wednesday to spend up to $1 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding to help bolster staffing at the two offices.

"We hope that we're going to generate some interest and get folks to apply," Wheeler said after the meeting.

More:'We're going to have some dead children': York County CYF is failing, workers say

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for YMCA of York and York County's Urban Park in York City, Wednesday, May 19, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Wheeler said the commissioners are looking at other ways to assist the department. That includes the implementation of a remote work policy to allow caseworkers some flexibility to complete paperwork as well as additional training — particularly for more recent hires.

"We know we've got some issues in the department, so it's going to be an ongoing thing to make sure that we make improvements so the employees that come here to work here stay here," Wheeler said. "We need to continue to focus on the organization to make sure we are doing what we can to keep it a healthy, vibrant organization, because they serve some of the most vulnerable in our community." 

More:'A sinking ship': How do we fix York County's child welfare crisis?

The additional funding includes bonuses and other incentives designed to entice traditionally low-paid caseworkers to stay with the office:

  • Children, Youth and Families full-time caseworkers hired between the effective date of the agreement and Dec. 31 would receive $1,000 upon completion of 90 days of employment, increasing to $1,250 upon completion of 180 days and receiving $1,750 upon completion of a full year for a total of $4,000.
  • CYF full-time non-caseworkers hired between the date of the agreement and Dec. 31 would receive payments of $400, $700 and $900 upon completion of the same benchmarks as caseworkers for a total of $2,000.
  • Full-time union employees hired prior to the agreement will receive retention bonuses of $4,000 for less than five years of employment, $5,000 for five to nine years of employment and $6,000 for 10 years of employment or more.
York City Police drive past the York County Human Services Center at 100 West Market Street in York City, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

If employees are receiving the retention bonus, they are not eligible for other payments. In addition, the retention bonuses are one-time only, meaning that if an employee were to go up a level, they would not receive the higher payment.

County Administrator Mark Derr said roughly $17 million of the county's total $87 million in ARPA funding remains to be spent.

More:New CYF director aims to boost recruitment for case workers

"We thought that we needed to start some process of looking at the different areas, see what we can do to help with recruiting people and keeping people," Commissioner Doug Hoke said. "So this is just one step in starting to look at a lot of different things." 

Hoke said that they're looking at options to not only recruit people, but keep people. 

Low pay has been identified as a problem at York County CYF, with one former employee telling the Dispatch some entry level employees get paid less than some Rutter's employees. But other problems remain, including what both a current and a former employee of CYF said was a toxic work environment.

More:Experts warn of future COVID-19 variants as omicron continues to surge in York County

CYF Director Tanya Stauffer declined to comment, directing all questions to the county commissioners. 

Commissioner Ron Smith did not attend Wednesday's meeting but said he supported the move.

"Hopefully with these sign-ons and retention bonuses, it's going to help mitigate staffing, which in turn could lead to more time off," he said. "Plus, it's going to fill the ranks with caseworkers, which is what we desperately need now." 

Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.