Evaluation of the New York City Home Rebuilders Demonstration. 2.5.3 Caseloads

09/14/1998

In some agencies, the caseworkers in the experimental group had lower caseloads with the expectation that families would receive more attention from the caseworker. Two methods were used by the agencies to count caseloads in the experimental group. During the study, some of the agencies began to count the number of families for each caseworker, while the remaining agencies continued to count the number of children served by a caseworker. The agencies tried to place all siblings in either one home or in the same neighborhood. This allowed the caseworker to get to know each child's foster parent and environment a little better and to reduce the amount of time traveling from home to home.

Table 2-3 shows the number of children or families served per caseworker for the experimental and comparison groups. At Harlem Dowling, the control group was divided into two units: a foster care unit and an adoption unit. Although each caseworker had the same caseload of 29-35 children, both units are listed because the units were programmatically different. The comparison group at St. Christopher­Ottilie also reported having a foster care and an adoption unit prior to July 1994, but assigned a different number of children per caseworker in each unit. Little Flower reported both the number of children and the number of families assigned per caseworker in the experimental group. Finally, New York Foundling reported assigning 18 children per caseworker and 15 children or 5 to 10 families per aftercare worker in the experimental group. In its comparison group, it reported assigning 18 children per caseworker during the study and increased that number to 22-24 children after the project ended.

Table 2-3.  Comparison of Average Caseloads of
Experimental Group and Comparison Group

Agency Experimental Group Caseloads Comparison Group Caseloads
Harlem Dowling 20 children per caseworker 29-35 children per foster care worker
29-35 children per adoption worker
Little Flower 8-10 families per caseworker
13-17 children per caseworker
20 children per caseworker
New York Foundling 18 children per caseworker
15 children per aftercare worker
5-10 families per aftercare worker
18 children per caseworker (during the demonstration)
22-24 children per caseworker (after demonstration)
Miracle Makers 12-15 families per caseworker 21-27 children per caseworker
St.Christopher­Ottilie 14 children per caseworker 18 children per caseworker*
St. Christopher­Jennie Clarkson 14-16 families per caseworker (not to exceed 21 children) N/A

* St. Christopher­Ottilie:  The staff ratio changed to 18 children to 1 caseworker 7/94; prior to that time the ratio was 18:1 for foster care and 21:1 for adoption.

In four of the agencies, the experimental group had lower caseloads than the comparison group. The caseloads for the caseworkers at New York Foundling appeared to be equal for the experimental and comparison groups during the demonstration. However, at all of the agencies, the experimental group had more support from other staff (e.g., housing specialists, aftercare workers, drug rehabilitation specialists, etc.).

Since 1994, there has been a significant drop in the number of children in foster care in the city, apparently due largely to a decrease in admissions to care. As a result, the non-HomeRebuilders caseloads of the agencies involved in HomeRebuilders declined. In addition, as agencies worked toward a shorter length of stay for clients, planned reductions in HomeRebuilders staff were supposed to occur as the cases were closed. In combination, these phenomena resulted in downsizing or displacement of workers. Downsizing did not occur smoothly at most of the agencies, and this was probably a major factor negatively affecting staff morale. For the most part, downsizing was accomplished by moving staff to other positions in the agency or not refilling positions that were vacated.

The director at Little Flower reported that one month the administration spoke to the staff about eliminating positions and moving people to different positions based on the number of reunifications that had occurred. That month the staff recommended no children for reunification. The administration attributed this lack of recommending reunification to the staff's fear of losing their jobs. At Miracle Makers, the administration anticipated this same problem. Therefore, the administration told the staff that the success of the demonstration would determine their future positions at the agency. Caseworkers were told that the least productive staff would be the first to be reassigned or eliminated from the agency. The administration believed that this was both an honest approach and that it provided an incentive for workers to achieve results with families.

The staff at St. Christopher­Jennie Clarkson seemed to tolerate the downsizing fairly well. During the second year of the program, the agency's revenue was reduced by 22 percent. To adjust to this reduction, many of the clerical staff were eliminated, and the staff were given computers. The housing specialist position was eliminated, and one of the administrators took on those tasks as an addition to his workload. This was done deliberately to show the staff that the administration would change its workload to compensate for the loss of revenue.

The interviews that were conducted after the demonstration ended revealed that the staff morale in three of the agencies was very low. For example, at one agency, the caseworkers said that they had been promised that if they worked hard during the first 2 years of the program, they would not be given new cases during the third year of the program. They were counting on having this reduced caseload in order to concentrate on the remaining cases (which were the most difficult) and to have a chance to work at an easier pace. However, these caseworkers stated that as a result of downsizing, cases were redistributed and therefore their caseloads did not decrease. At another agency, the morale of the experimental group staff seemed high, but the morale of the comparison group was low. Further questioning revealed that the comparison group had lost more staff through attrition. Administrative staff and caseworkers at a third agency also reported low morale. They believed that the combination of downsizing and the unexpected budget cuts in the entire agency in 1995 severely hurt staff morale.

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