Employees of York County's child welfare office speak out, plan rally

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Staff from York County's child welfare office spoke out publicly Wednesday about conditions there in advance of the start of labor contract negotiations.

"It has been very difficult for us over there, and I personally don't think that we are seen or that we are heard," Children, Youth and Families (CYF) caseworker Breanna Marfia told the county's Board of Commissioners during a public comment period.

Short-staffing has been an ongoing problem for the county CYF. Last year, staff described systemic problems surrounding heavy caseloads and employees being forced to do work they were not properly trained to complete.

"The concern is we’re going to have some dead children," one former worker said last November, "and some issues coming up because we’re not checking in (on children), not spending the time. We don’t have the time."

The York County Administrative Center on East Market Street in York City, Thursday, March 24, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

SEIU Local 668 business agent Erik Strobl said workers plan to rally outside the York County Administrative Center before negotiations begin at noon Thursday in order to air their concerns.

"They want to be seen and heard," Strobl said. "It is purely to ask for a fair contract and to give them a reason to stick around, because they want to do this work, it's just getting more and more difficult." 

According to Strobl, the current contract — which covers employees of both CYF and the Area Agency on Aging — expires in December. It took effect in January 2020.

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Marfia, who's been a caseworker for four years, told the commissioners that she sometimes works 50-hour weeks.

"We care about our families," she said. "We deep down want the best for them. But it doesn't feel like the county wants what's best for us either, at times."

After the meeting, President Commissioner Julie Wheeler and Commissioners Doug Hoke and Ron Smith had no comment on the bargaining process or the specific issues raised.

Neither did Clair Doll, who leads the county's human services department, nor Mark Shea, director of the county's Area Agency on Aging. CYF office director Tanya Stauffer did not respond to a request for comment.

Tanya Stauffer, director of York County's Office of Children, Youth and Families, during an interview at her office in York City, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"We know there's issues and we're working on it," Smith said after the meeting. He declined further comment.

Strobl said the workers will be looking for "pretty much anything" that can encourage people to either join or remain with the child welfare office. Approximately 150 employees are subject to the contract, he added.

"We're trying to get paid a bit more competitive with other counties and with the private sector," he said, "because a lot of these people are not just going to other county jobs either in York or somewhere else, they're leaving the industry entirely. And we frankly need people doing this sort of care work." 

Earlier this year, York County voted to use $1 million of the county's allotment of American Rescue Plan Act funding to address recruiting and retention at the Youth Development Center and CYF.

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

Marfia said office staff appreciated the retention bonus and the other changes, but noted that other county offices received significantly more funding. It did little to address the underlying issues, she said.

"Caseworkers are left waiting," she said. "We're still waiting." 

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Dorothy Miles, another CYF caseworker, said entry level staff make about as much as convenience store clerks. According to the previous contract, that rate is currently $15.79 per hour.

"We maintain the safety of the children of York County, but we're not given essential pay," she said. "We could go to Rutter's or McDonald's and make starting out what a caseworker makes." 

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