ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Department of Human Resources came under Senate scrutiny Tuesday after missing an Oct. 1 deadline to hire the child welfare caseworkers and supervisors mandated by the General Assembly.
The department failed to fill the required 1,880 child welfare worker and supervisor positions, a lapse resulting in a $1.5 million state penalty.
As of Oct. 1, there were 1,751 caseworker and supervisor positions filled statewide, according to the department.
The next deadline is Jan. 1, when the department is required to fill 1,891 positions before it can receive $1 million in funds.
“We’re aggressively interviewing people for these positions,” said DHR Secretary Christopher J. McCabe during a Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hearing. “The goal of DHR and Gov. (Robert) Ehrlich is to fill all the child welfare caseworker and supervisor positions.”
Since the end of the legislative session, DHR has increased filled caseworker positions by 58 but lost a total of 12 in supervisor positions overall, for a net gain of 46 positions since the language was adopted, according to a prepared statement by the Department of Legislative Services Office of Policy Analysis.
The worst vacancies are in Baltimore County with 12; Baltimore City with 54, Anne Arundel County with 10 and Prince George’s County with 25.
“We’ve taken a multi-faceted approach to hiring more workers,” said McCabe. “We’re focusing on the four jurisdictions where the largest numbers of vacancies exist.”
The committee, however, questioned the department’s dedication to filling vacant caseworker positions and aggressively seeking qualified applicants.
“I don’t know if we can release the money until we see some progress,” said Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, the committee’s chairman.
In an effort to recruit more caseworkers and supervisors, the department is using a “quick hire” process, which reduces the timeframe for applicants to be tested and certified as eligible.
The department posted an advertisement on its Web site and is working with colleges and universities to recruit recent graduates.
But child advocates say the department has not been aggressive enough in filling these positions, and its efforts now are late.
“Asking for an extension is a bit unseemly given the amount of time they’ve had and the urgency of the issue,” said Sharon Rubinstein, a spokeswoman for Advocates for Children and Youth.
Advocates do not necessarily want to see money taken away from the department, which is already facing financial constraints, but are afraid this may be necessary to move the administration toward filling all positions.
“We would rather see compliance than punishment,” Rubinstein said.
Other child advocates agree.
“The department could have filled enough positions if they had really tried,” said Jim McComb, executive director of the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth. “Nothing would make any of us happier than to see the department moving on this issue.”
McCabe said he hopes to meet hiring goals within the next 50 to 75 days.
“These challenges are by no means insurmountable,” said McCabe. “We have a sincere commitment to achieving our goals.”