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Commissioners must address CYF staffing

Blair County Children, Youth & Families has a staffing crisis so severe that it could take many, many months to resolve.

Unfortunately, at least two of the top three county government leaders appear to be in no hurry to resolve it.

If the county is to continue operating the department, it should have the capacity, personnel and leadership to carry out its responsibilities effectively.

If it can’t, then the state — which monitors the department and provides a major portion of its funding — needs to come up with a plan for the department which handles the important role of protecting our community’s children.

Two of the three county commissioners — Chairman Bruce Erb and Amy Webster — should have responded during the July 26 meeting to the CYF employees who attended and spoke about the department’s serious staffing shortage and the modest pay levels.

The third commissioner, Laura Burke, liaison to the department who has been involved in pursuits to attract more job candidates to the department, did respond.

“I agree wholeheartedly with what they said,” Burke stated.

While silence can be golden, as noted by a once-popular song, there are times when it is damaging. Silence won’t resolve the county’s CYF department problems. But leadership and an open willingness to acknowledge reality can be effective in attracting attention and finding solutions.

It is important to note that staff vacancies and pay issues have affected other county children and youth offices. In neighboring Cambria County, where employees appealed to commissioners for higher pay, one commissioner suggested $7,000 payments to help with retention, affordable with the use of American Rescue Plan dollars.

His fellow commissioners said no.

Part of what should be troubling for Blair County residents is that the county was allotted $23.6 million from the American Rescue Plan. So far, that relief is still in the bank, generally targeted to be spent on broadband internet access and expansion. While that’s a worthy project, the well-being of our community’s children, the preservation of current CYF staff and the hiring of more caseworkers is also important.

A department with 25 open caseworker jobs — on a staff that’s supposed to have 37 caseworkers — is indicative of a serious and unpalatable situation.

During the past half-century, there were times when Blair County commissioners bragged about their ability to control spending and avoid real estate tax increases. In hindsight, we recognize problems that developed as a result.

For lack of adequately funding the pension plan in past years, today’s property owners are paying more taxes to support it. And because of ignored water leaks at the courthouse, county leaders had to pursue what became a costly restoration project.

Chronic understaffing of our county’s CYF office — as described to commissioners by the employees who work there — is likely to have own repercussions down the road.

Instead of silence, commissioners should have welcomed the public comment offered by CYF employees. They spoke with first-hand knowledge of their dilemma.

While commissioners may not have an easy answer or immediate solution to the department’s understaffing, this is an issue that the county cannot afford to ignore.

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