By Elizabeth Hewitt, VTDigger.org
The number of Vermont children in the custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) has jumped by a third since the beginning of 2014, according to a report published this week. The child abuse hotline saw an increase of more than 10 percent in calls in 2014, with a record 19,288 calls. Schatz said the increase shows heightened public awareness about child abuse.
DCF says that there are now 1,326 children in custody, with the sharpest increase in intakes occurring among children under age 6.
Vermont’s child protection system came under statewide scrutiny last year after two toddlers who had open cases with DCF were allegedly abused and killed by relatives. In the wake of the toddler deaths, the department added 18 new social workers.
According to DCF officials, social workers in the family services division now have higher caseloads than they did before the new positions were added last year.
DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz said Wednesday the department will look at what additional resources may be needed.
To manage the compounding caseloads, DCF has hired temporary staff to support social workers, Schatz said. The aides can help reduce the stress on staff by assisting with tasks that might not require a social worker—providing transportation for children, for example.
According to the report, substance abuse was the leading factor involved in cases of child abuse and neglect, cited in 31 percent of reports.