ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — A former investigator for the Missouri Department of Social Services — Children’s Division in Overland said the agency’s staffing shortage is so acute that children are being put at risk.
Dayna Eckhardt spent three and a half years as an investigator with the Children’s Division.
“Children aren’t being seen,” she said. “We have a policy on times that children are to be seen based on the level of reporting, and children aren’t being seen when they should be seen. So, therefore, they’re being left in situations that are very dangerous. We’re seeing a lot more serious reports come in, even more fatalities in St. Louis because they’re not being seen when they should be.”
Eckhardt filed dozens of complaints about the situation with upper management at DSS. She said she got frustrated when she didn’t see much being done to solve the problem.
She tried to file a grievance over the situation but received a letter from DSS in 2021 that read, in part: “This letter is to advise you that your grievance filed is being placed in pending status at this time. DSS grievance procedure is being reviewed.”
FOX 2’s Elliott Davis reached DSS for comment but was told no one was available for an on-camera interview.
A spokesperson sent a statement, saying: “The Department of Social Services is aware that turnover is a problem in many areas across the state, including turnover among team members in the metropolitan area.”
The Children’s Division has about 237 job vacancies. People going to the office today notice the shortage of workers.
One person who asked not to be identified said: “Yeah, it’s empty in there now. Back in the day, it used to be a lot of caseworkers. They will have you seated or whatever. They’ll call you quick fast and in a hurry, but right now they don’t.”
Eckhardt is hoping for a big change soon for the sake of the children.
“Don’t get me wrong. I realize that this is a serious issue, and it’s not going to be solved overnight. I would say whatever it takes to solve this problem and get a solution. There should be no greater priority for the Children’s Division right now than to address this staffing crisis.”
Read the full statement from the Department of Social Services below:
The Department of Social Services is aware that turnover is a problem in many areas across the state, including turnover amongst team members in metropolitan areas. As Director Missey recently stated during a hearing, Children’s Division currently has around 237 job vacancies. During this hearing, he also provided that while 15 is the standard caseload per team member, there are CD team members who currently have a higher caseload.
We are incredibly appreciative of our dedicated team members and multi-disciplinary team members who have worked together to continue to keep Missouri’s most vulnerable children safe despite challenges. We are committed to supporting our team members and continue to advocate for them to get the resources they need and deserve. As Robert Knodell, Acting Director of the Department of Social Services, stated previously, “Given the extreme challenges our Department and, especially, the Children’s Division are having with recruiting and retaining employees, Director Missey and I are working aggressively to provide as much flexibility to our workforce as we can. We are incredibly thankful for the final passage by the General Assembly of the Governor’s supplemental pay plan which will help with so many critical vacancies, but we also want to take every other step we can to address the needs.”
The Children’s Division also continues to advertise job openings and host recruitment events in an effort to fill every position across the state. Despite these efforts, the number of applicants Children’s Division receives per job posting has decreased 84% between March 2020 and October 2021, with an average of 6 applicants per job posting in October 2021.
We will be hosting a department-wide hiring event in St. Louis, Missouri on Wednesday, May 11 that you may consider promoting. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Missouri Job Center at Northwest Crossings. Our Facebook Event offers more information and details.
A bachelor’s degree is required to become an Associate Social Services Specialists; however, individuals with a high school diploma or equivalency can join the Children’s Division team as a Children’s Service Worker Aides. To learn more about current job opportunities with the Children’s Division, please visit http://mocareers.mo.gov/children.