Economic stress tabbed as cause for drastic increase in demand for all local social services
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Local healthcare and social workers say they are grappling with a huge increase in caseloads, as tough economic conditions have led to a surge in demand for services, including domestic issues, request for direct financial aid, medical care and various food programs.
Most alarming is the increase in the number of child welfare cases in Summit County, local experts said Tuesday at a county commissioner work session. Local officials said they’ve seen a “drastic increase” in the number investigations related to child welfare issues, said Diane Pocius, one of the social service experts called in to update the elected officials.
“It’s shocking compared to where we’ve been in Summit County in recent years,” said commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, after hearing about the jump in the number of cases of reported child neglect and abuse that have strained county resources and placed an additional burden on the attorney general’s office.
“It goes back to that, in resort communities, many people don’t realize or see these types of cases going on,” said commissioner Thomas Davidson. “It’s sobering to be dealing with cases where you’re going to be terminating parental rights,” he said. “It’s neglect, it’s abuse, it’s the family unit falling apart in tough economic times. It’s emotionally high-voltage stuff.”
Davidson said the most important thing is to make sure local agencies have adequate budgets and staffing to make sure that the most vulnerable members of the community are being looked after.
Davidson said until recently, Summit County hadn’t dealt with a case of potentially terminating parental rights in a decade. Now, with joblessness high, those economic pressures have resulted in “kids potentially falling through the cracks,” he said.
And it’s not just Summit County. Recent state reports show similar spikes in other counties with mountain resort communities — to the point that the state department of human services expressed concern that these issues were not being adequately addressed at the county level.
See some of the documents from the presentation in a Scribd.com window at the end of this story.
A graph included in the presentation clearly shows the spike in social service cases in Summit, Routt, Eagle and other counties in the mountain resort region. State concern rose to a high enough level that top officials have considered taking over social services from counties.
Colorado is one of about 16 states where counties provide those services, Davidson said, adding that, in his opinion, those services are best handled at the local level.
“Folks are scrambling,” said assistant county manager Steve Hill, charged with coordinating efforts by government agencies and nongovernmental organizations via the Community Care Council.
Hill said government can’t and probably shouldn’t be looked to to meet all the needs — that’s where the volunteer link with the community care group comes into the picture, he explained.
Hill said a source of state funding that has helped local agencies deal with the increased demand is drying up in June. As a result, the county is looking to make sure that all the local programs have the resources they need.
Stiegelmeier characterized the local social service providers as the “angels” of the community and said they are often shy about asking for extra resources. The commissioners said they will do all they can to ensure that the local programs have the resources they need.
All local programs are affected.
The food stamp program has seen a 330 percent caseload increase between 2007 and 2010, from about 150 cases in 2007 to more than 600 this year.
Similarly, spending on the food stamp program has also skyrocketed by 325 percent during that span, from less than $40,000 in 2007 to more than $120,000 this year.
The child care assistance caseload more than doubled between 2007 and 2010, from less than 60 cases to more than 120 this year, with a corresponding growth in spending by 190 percent, from about $25,000 to more than $70,000 in 2010.