In its ongoing quest to fill vacancies, Luzerne County hired 10 new Children and Youth caseworkers last month, according to county Manager C. David Pedri’s newly released August personnel report.
However, three caseworkers also resigned last month, leaving a net gain of seven, it said.
As of Friday, county Children and Youth Director Joanne Van Saun said there are now 17 caseworker vacancies after factoring in the latest additions and departures.
The agency has struggled with caseworker shortages for years — a problem encountered in many other jurisdictions across the state, according to state Auditor General’s Office reports. Caseworker vacancies have been blamed on low compensation and the high on-the-job stress of investigating alleged child abuse and neglect.
The county had more than 40 vacancies when Van Saun was promoted to oversee the agency in 2016.
In response to difficulty recruiting and retaining workers, county officials earlier this year boosted the starting salary for more experienced caseworkers to $36,000, an increase of $4,236, in a new union contract. Entry-level caseworker positions start at $29,957 annually.
Pedri said many caseworkers have been hired in recent years, but it may be unrealistic to expect no vacancies. Ten to 15 openings at any given time may be the only attainable target, he said.
“I’m beginning to think that that’s the new standard,” Pedri said.
However, the administration will keep the goal of filling all positions and continually recruit and advertise, he said.
“We want to retain the experienced workers we have and attract new talent,” he said.
Nine of the new hires are for the entry-level positions paying $29,957 annually — Jonathan Casey, Alyssa Clocker, William D’Angelo, Tyler Gates, Mindy Jenkins, Linda Klepar, Nicholas Musto, Lorenzo Singotti and Tewana Walker.
The remaining employee, Jessica Mumford, was hired at $36,000 in the more advanced position, known as “caseworker II.”
Workers in the higher-paid position must have an applicable bachelor’s degree and one year of professional casework experience with a social services agency, according to an online county job posting announcing immediate openings.
The administration has been pushing to fill caseworker II vacancies because the position requires less supervision and training.
Caseworker job openings are advertised on the human resources section at www.luzernecounty.org.
The three caseworkers who resigned last month, according to the report: Maura Clark, Stephanie Santana and Rachel Wallace.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.