- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Families, attorneys and former caseworkers urged the Legislative Audit Committee to dig deeper into the activities of the Division of Child and Family Services after an audit found issues with inadequate documentation, inconsistent investigations and an antiquated computer system.

DCFS administrator Sarah Corbally said the agency agreed with most of the recommended improvements, but she argued it does not have enough staff to handle its increased caseload. “The safety of our children depends on us all coming to that understanding,” she said.

The agency is seeing increased caseloads because of parental drug use, without a corresponding increase in staff, she said.

“I think it’s fair to say you’re going to hear plenty of public comment that our workers actually can’t and don’t meet all of these demands,” Corbally said Wednesday.

Chris Brady of Helena told lawmakers that the agency could have saved a lot of money and staff time if it hadn’t doggedly pursued a coerced report that he had caused a bruise on his daughter’s leg. He said he was cleared after a two-year battle, but it left his daughter with psychiatric problems, his wife unable to work because of stress and the medical and legal costs forced him into bankruptcy.

“I think it’s important that you understand that this is a very superficial, thin audit,” Brady said. Auditors focused only on how the child abuse hotline takes and prioritizes reports and how they are investigated.

“You guys need to dig deeper. You need to get an audit that pulls up the rocks,” Brady said. “You gotta get dirty. You’re going to have to go into areas where they’re gonna hide behind confidentiality rules, court-sealed records.”

He said his daughter was removed from his custody without an investigation and without DCFS talking to him. He was charged with felony assault with a weapon.

Brady and his daughter told the panel she suffered the bruise when she was hit in the thigh with a football. “My family has been torn apart,” he said.

Attorney Roberta Cross Guns told the lawmakers she found it frightening that the agency was allowed to make decisions without some sort of supporting documentation. “You have opened the door for an abuse of discretion” if they don’t have to justify why they are removing children from their families, Cross Guns said.

She suggested lawmakers review the caseworker job description and training and said the state may have to raise the salary to attract qualified workers.

Corbally said the agency has trouble recruiting and retaining caseworkers and currently has 27 vacancies.

The audit found about 60 percent of the caseworkers had been in the job less than two years. Corbally said caseworkers can’t carry a full caseload until they’re fully trained.

Former caseworker and supervisor Vicki Leigland of Great Falls questioned whether the increased caseload was because kids were staying in the system longer due to a change in the way cases were handled. Previously, one group of caseworkers investigated reports and removed children if necessary while a second group worked to reunify families.

If you remove children from the family, “you’re the enemy,” Leigland said. “Then you have to establish a working relationship in reunification.”

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