Contra Costa cuts 65 child welfare workers

January 1, 2009 9:22:37 PM PST
There was frustration and concern over job cuts that took effect on January 1, 2009 in Contra Costa County. One laid-off worker is worried about the future of the kids he used to serve. He's among 200 former employees of Contra Costa County who marked this New Year's Day as their first, without a job.

Contra Costa supervisors issued the pink slips last month to become effective December 31st. Starting New Year's Day, the county has 65 fewer child welfare workers which is a sobering thought this New Year's, especially to those who workers used to work every day to keep kids safe.

"I'll be okay. I really do worry about the families and children that I work with," said Todd Lenz, a formal social worker.

Lenz is starting the New Year in fear. He and his wife Sonja have two young children and he just lost his job. Until yesterday, Lenz was a social worker working with foster kids in Richmond's poorest neighborhoods.

"The fact that the economy is the way it is, the need is going to be greater. It's like a natural disaster that's coming to this area," said Lenz.

Despite their emotional pleas, Lenz and 64 other child welfare workers received pink slips from Contra Costa supervisors, making $18 million in mid-year budget cuts.

"There's a problem the way the fiscal system works," said Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia.

Supervisor Gioia blames plunging property tax revenues and state funding that's failed to keep pace with surging caseloads.

"We're going to have to do the best to prevent kids from falling through the cracks, and that's not going to be easy with these kinds of cuts," said Supervisor Gioia.

Caseloads for remaining social workers will now jump at least 50 percent, and could double to as many as 35 each. Lenz spent the last week, saying goodbye to the children he's served for the past two years.

"That was hard. I had a lot of tears from kids, but the most amazing thing was they asked if I was going to be okay," said Lenz.

Lenz worries some kids in Contra Costa could end up like the 16-year-old in Tracy who police say was starved, beaten and chained to a fireplace by a woman who was once his foster mother.

"When the board unanimously agreed to approved these cuts, I believe they approved putting children and families at risk," said Lenz.

And the New Year brings no relief. Contra Costa faces another round of cuts in February -- cuts that may again come at the expense of children at risk.

"Hopefully we won't have a situation like in Tracy," said Lenz.

Supervisors in Contra Costa County will be considering how they're going to cut another $10 million by February to close a projected budget deficit of $28 million.