Former employee says Portsmouth CPS is putting children at risk

WAVY News - PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) -- Portsmouth Child Protective Services has found itself under the microscope. State officials are looking into the large backlog of cases there, not closed in the time legally allowed.

A former case worker in Portsmouth said the department is under staffed, employees are overworked and she fears this is putting children in danger.

"The main concern is the children are not safe," said the worker who wished not to be identified.  "Why should children in Portsmouth be at a higher risk of safety than children in Norfolk, Virginia Beach or Chesapeake?"

It was the former case worker's job to investigate reports of abuse and neglect, but that task became overwhelming.

"Caseloads started to get out of hand and it just really got to be a difficult thing," she added.  "By the time I left it was a mad house. It was crazy."

City officials say ideally there should be one case worker to every 12 to 15 cases, but that's not the case in Portsmouth.

The former worker says the caseload volume quickly mounted.  Her case numbers increased when she was handed other cases from employees who were fired or quit.  In fact, at the beginning of July, Portsmouth CPS only had nine of its usual case workers.  The office should have 19.

"That's extremely stressful and really unmanageable," she said.  "There is really no way possible for you to be able to note the case, see the child, do the investigation and work with all of the other pieces that come along with that."

10 On Your Side compared the average caseload in Portsmouth to other Hampton Roads cities.  Suffolk has the best average, with only six cases per worker, but in fairness the city has fewer cases to handle. Portsmouth has the highest number, with 41 cases per worker. It is by a far the worst in Hampton Roads and state officials are aware of the issue.

"If you are asking me specifically if 40 cases per worker is high, yes. it is very high," Carl Ayers, Virginia's Director of Family Services said.  "It would exceed any recommended standard."

Ayers told 10 On Your Side the state requires workers to close a case, meaning investigate and make an assessment, within 45 days.  Portsmouth has 194 cases past due.

"My concern would be if you have caseloads that high what amount of time does the worker have to actually devote services to that family," Ayers asked?

Ayers said he was not aware of the issue until 10 On Your Side brought it to his attention.  Just a week later the state requested an action plan from Jacquelyn Scott, Portsmouth's Director of Social Services.

"We try to offer support to that agency, to try to look at it and see what we can do to address whatever the situation may be," Ayers said.

Jacquelyn Scott told 10 On Your Side she hopes to have the case numbers back to normal by mid-December.

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