El Paso County has the dubious distinction of receiving more reports of child abuse and neglect than any other county in Colorado, but its annual child welfare allocation from the state hasn’t reflected it.
That will change July 1, when a new formula to determine child welfare funding for Colorado’s counties kicks in as the state’s fiscal year begins. The reformulation means the El Paso County Department of Human Services will get $3.7 million more from the state this year, giving it the funds to hire more people to investigate the flood of abuse and neglect reports, known as referrals.
“It’s just a blessing; I don’t know how else to put it,” said Elaine Johnsen, budget division manager for El Paso County. “The referrals and investigations continue to increase year after year.”
Last year, the county received about 12,000 reports of abuse and neglect, more than any other county, including the high-population counties in the Denver metro area. Not every report leads to a finding of abuse and neglect, and El Paso County’s “founded” cases are lower than those of Denver, Arapahoe, Adams and Jefferson counties.
But DHS caseworkers end up having to investigate about 50 percent of all reports, and the more reports that come in, the bigger their workload is. Currently, the agency’s 40 or so caseworkers average 15 to 20 new investigations a month, said Shirley Rhodus, child welfare administrator for El Paso County DHS. The ideal, she said, is 12.
The extra $3.7 million will be used, in part, to hire six caseworkers and a supervisor.
“This will help us get ahead to handle the increased volume of investigations,” Rhodus said.
The move to change the funding formula goes back about three years, said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a member of the Child Welfare Allocations Committee of the state DHS. The committee had decided to look into how the formula was working, based on a perception that allocations were being made on how much a county spent, not how much it needed.
“We felt that the whole formula needed to be reviewed,” Clark said. “When the committee started looking at it, we realized it had to be based on more than how much you spent.”
In the years the formula was under review, allocations to the counties held stable. For El Paso County DHS, that meant about $39 million to $40.8 million a year — not enough to cover its full child welfare costs. DHS had to dip into a reserve fund to meet its obligations, but the new allocation of $43 million means the reserves won’t have to be touched.
“We’re going to come out even now, and not be at fiscal risk like we have been,” Johnsen said. “We’re not really getting a huge increase; this only makes us whole.”
Johnsen said the funds also go to pay people who take in foster children or adopt children with special needs or problems that typically make them hard to place in a permanent home.
BY THE NUMBERS
Reports of child abuse/neglect:
2010: El Paso County, 12,604; Denver, 9,042; Arapahoe, 8,722; Adams, 8,554; Jefferson, 7,693
2009: El Paso County, 11,114, Denver, 8,695; Arapahoe, 7,985; Adams, 7,924; Jefferson, 7,099
So far this year, El Paso County has had 5,492 reports
Founded cases of child abuse/neglect in El Paso County:
2011 to date: 300
Source: El Paso County Department of Human Services