The gains won by Los Angeles County social workers during their strike last December were nothing short of historic. Members of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), through the Children’s Social Workers union (part of Service Employees International Union Local 721), may have begun a sea change for children and families in the county. As the nation’s largest public child welfare agency, DCFS is now poised to be a bellwether for reform.
The job of the county’s social workers is to establish child safety, coordinate and evaluate visitation, substance abuse, mental health and domestic violence services; locate relative or foster care placements; prepare the children and transport them to placements; and for dependency court cases, prepare and write the court reports that are the basis for DCFS’ legal recommendations in legal proceedings.
As a former DCFS Supervising Social Worker, I believe that the high number of pre-strike caseloads severely hindered the ability of social workers to adequately provide services to maintain children at home or to reunify children with their parents and conduct thorough safety assessments.
The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) strike has been on my mind. Prior to leaving this April after nearly 12 years of service, I thought I would retire from DCFS. Even though I am no longer employed by DCFS and no longer in Los Angeles, I still feel connected to the social workers that do this work.
The strike started on December 5 when contract negotiations stalled. An unresolved issue is that of the Children’s Social Worker caseload for children and families who have abuse or neglect issues. High caseloads have been a long-standing issue even before this round of negotiations. One child is counted as one case. A child’s case goes through several service phases – from investigation to adjudication to offering services to maintain a child safely at home, or to reunify a the child with his parents once a family interfaces with DCFS.
Last week Los Angeles County Children’s Social Workers went on strike after contract talks with the county broke down. At the heart of the conflict are claims made by the CSWs that the Department of Public Social Services and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors have refused to include in a new labor agreement a binding commitment to reduce the number of employee caseloads. The CSWs, represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 721, say the caseload numbers “greatly exceed acceptable industry standards.”
This morning at 11 a.m., union members, along with community and faith leaders, will take their complaints to field offices of the five supervisors: Gloria Molina, Zev Yaroslavsky, Don Knabe, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Antonovich. The chief focus of Monday’s strike rallies will be Molina’s El Monte office, at 3400 Aerojet Avenue.
Local 721 claims the support of U.S. Congresswomen Janice Hahn and Judy Chu,