LANCASTER – Holding signs calling for “Child Safety NOW,” dozens of local child welfare workers staged a protest outside the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services in Lancaster Thursday. The strike was also taking place at the DCFS office in Palmdale and other areas across the county, the protesters said.
“All the social workers in the 18 DCFS offices are on strike as we speak, and we’re going to keep on striking until we get what we want,” said Chychy Ekeochah, child abuse investigator and union negotiator.
“What triggered this is the county board of supervisors refused to work with us to reach a settlement to reduce our caseload/workload by recruiting more children’s social workers,” Ekeochah said. She said county officials have promised to hire hundreds more social workers to lighten caseloads, but the commitment needs to be put in writing. The strikers are calling for lower case loads as part of their labor contract, Ekeochah said.
“Put it in writing in our contract that you’re going to be hiring 35 children’s social workers every month for 17 months,” Ekeochah said. “They have to put it in writing for accountability, but they don’t want to be held responsible, that’s why they don’t want to put it in writing.”
Children’s social workers have been working without a contract since Oct. 1, and negotiations have been ongoing, Ekeochah said. Contract negotiations broke down Wednesday night over caseloads, and the Service Employees International Union Local 721 called for the first county strike in more than a decade.
In order to ensure child safety and to do their jobs properly, children’s social workers should each have under 18 cases, however, some have as many as 40 cases, Ekeochah said.
“We have 40 hours a week, 40 kids… If you do the math, how can they think that we can have a good quality relationship with these children?” said Shawna Henderson-McIntyre, a children’s social worker for Palmdale. “We can’t do it, we don’t have enough hours in the day, in the month, in the week, and I just don’t understand how they can’t see everything we do.”
Henderson-McIntyre said she and many social workers are giving their all, despite limited resources, yet they are often the first ones to be blamed if something goes wrong.
“We want to let these parents know that we’re not their enemy, we’re on their team, that we don’t want to tear their families apart, we want to put them together, and we don’t have enough time to do this,” she said.
The Department of Children and Family Services will have up to 400 administrators providing “front line services” during the strike, so that the public will be as minimally impacted as possible, County officials said.
The strikers are prepared to go “as long it takes,” Ekeochah said.
“We would like for everybody to call the Board of Supervisors and ask them why they are refusing to help us social workers ensure child safety,” Ekeochah said. ”Ask the Board of Supervisors to please bring down our workload/caseload by hiring more social workers.”