Union rep raises ‘conflict’ concerns; Foster care system at issue
Sandy Shaddock, the business representative of Teamsters Local 445, which represents some 600 Sullivan County employees, is raising concerns about Randall Parker, the commissioner of the Division of Health and Family Services (DFS) and possible conflict of interest because of changes he has made to foster care and child protective services in Sullivan County.
In an interview with The River Reporter on January 30, Shaddock said that in her capacity as a union representative she met with about 20 county employees involved in the foster care or child protective services, who lodged many complaints.
She said that contracts with 17 organizations that have provided foster care services at various facilities for the county in the past have not been renewed this year, and that about 11 children, who would have gone to some of these organizations, will instead be going to Berkshire Farms Center and Services for Youth facilities where Parker was previously employed.
When children get into trouble with the law, or if they are neglected, abused or maltreated, they may be sent by a judge to one of several facilities with varying degrees of strictness. In the past, a case worker would assign the child to the appropriate facility, and that decision would be approved by a DFS manager. Shaddock said that this has been changed, and now Parker must personally approve every assignment.
Additionally, she alleged, staff members from Berkshire Farms were allowed to review the cases they might wish to take, a practice that is reportedly not afforded other providers.
Shaddock said that in most cases the Berkshire Farms facilities where the children will be sent are farther away from the population centers in Sullivan County than the facilities that had previously been used. She said that this represents a hardship to caseworkers because they are responsible for transporting parents to supervised visitation and therapy sessions if the parents have no transportation, which is frequently the case; supervised visitation can be as little as three hours per week, or as many as 10 hours.
Further, because of staffing cuts that have taken place due to belt-tightening at the county, Shaddock said, “Caseworkers from foster care are on the road four to five days per week, which leaves very limited time for paperwork and case management.” Caseloads for caseworkers are currently 15 to 18 cases.
The changes have also caused a situation in which a child is now in emergency placement, which is more expensive than regular placement, because Berkshire Farms is limited in the kinds of cases it accepts. The child has been accepted to a home, but the home could not follow through because its contract was not renewed.
Asked if she thought the changes Parker has instituted could result in savings for the county, Shaddock said that the prices for these services are set by the state, and the state requires that counties pay at least 100% of that price. For this and other reasons, she said she did not see how these changes could save the county any money.
She said the changes Parker instituted were not good for the children in the program, and not good for the employees.
The New York State Office of Children and Family Services is reportedly investigating this matter; the agency did not return calls seeking comment.
Parker did not respond to requests for comment.