Jan. 27—RICHLAND TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Cambria County Children and Youth Services employees showed up en masse to a meeting on Wednesday, asking Commissioners Thomas Chernisky, Scott Hunt and William "B.J." Smith to address the large amount of vacancies that are affecting the agency's ability to do its work.
Lynn Popovich, a supervisor, and Brandi Yeckley, a caseworker, spoke for the group during the commissioners' regular monthly meeting that was held at Richland Township Municipal Building.
"I've been a county employee for more than 33 years and I have never been as concerned as I am now about the state of this agency," Popovich said.
"We are in a crisis. We need your immediate assistance to address the low wages that result in mass vacancies."
There are currently 16 openings among 36 positions, according to Popovich, who stated the number of abuse and neglect reports have risen from 3,062 in 2015 to 4,471 in 2020.
"Unfortunately, due to the volume of reports and the mass caseworkers vacancies, I fear that I am not able to build those trusting relationships and provide the quality casework the agency and I have always aimed for," Yeckley said. "It is not for lack of trying."
A contract exists between the county and CYS employees, setting wages and other terms.
But staff members feel better pay is needed in order to fill the vacancies.
"Every exit interview since 2016 has cited low wages in relation to the amount of work expected and stress as a primary reason for leaving," Popovich said.
"We cannot attract candidates to even interview with a starting salary of $14.83 an hour — or $28,914 a year. It costs $35,000 to train one new caseworker.
"Having them turn around and leave within 18 months due to low pay, unrealistic workload, that's not fiscally responsible, and it's a waste of time and it's a waste of resources."
Hunt and Smith declined to comment, saying the issue is a personnel and human resource matter.
Chernisky issued a brief comment: "We are concerned about the staffing with CYS. Staffing levels have been a concern for many years. We need to work on recruitment and retention of caseworkers. We will continue to have discussions and work to find solutions to recruit and retain caseworkers."