NEW YORK (WABC) --City workers tasked with trying to protect thousands of kids in crisis are speaking out for the first time -- not hidden in the shadows -- on camera in what can only be described as a plea for help.
They're telling Eyewitness News more children will fall through the cracks if caseworkers don't get more help.
Some of the supervisors and case workers said they feel workers on the front lines are being unfairly blamed for the deaths of the children who recently died while under the watch of the city's child welfare agency.
"Child Protective Specialists don't kill children," Bronx ACS Supervisor Michael Simpson said. "You know, unfortunately we have parents who suffer from untreated mental health, drug usage, and other things that cause them sometimes to be violent toward these children or hurt them."
In a series of interviews, ACS supervisors and frontline caseworkers expressed for the first time since the child deaths the emotional toll it's had on them.
"You are in constant fear, nervous, anxiety, wake up early in the morning thinking about what you have to do to make sure the kids are safe," ACS Caseworker Rochelle Lowe said.
That has made it difficult to retain workers in a constant battle by the agency to keep the number of cases handled by each Child Protective Specialist to around 12. The Administration for Children Services said the average is currently 14 cases per worker. Supervisors and those in the field told Eyewitness News the caseload is much higher.
Reporter: "What's the total now?"
Chaton Alexander/ACS Caseworker: "The total number now is actually 18."
Reporter: "ACS says average is 13 to 14 cases."
Alexander: "I think that was more so two years ago, not currently cause currently a lot of staff that have left and we are taking up the slack."
Lowe, who is a caseworker in the Bronx, said she's handling 19 cases and that her office has not been fully staffed in more than a year. She said retaining staff is nearly impossible because of the added pressures.
"People don't want to be arrested because something slipped through the cracks because they are overwhelmed, we don't have a lot of workers because everyone is leaving due to what is going on, people are afraid," Lowe said.
7 On Your Side asked Simpson about his case load.
Reporter: "How many are you currently supervising?"
Reporter: "Three people. How many should you be supervising?"
Reporter: "So you're down by half?"
Reporter: "Wow, It's probably been about a year."
Adding to the workload, there was a sudden surge in calls following the death of six children, which created new cases to investigate.
"We have new trainees came in completed training and they already have 20 cases," Queens ACS Supervisor Mary Myers said. "They've been out of training four months and they already have 20 cases. So, I mean we have to, we have to hire staff but we have to figure out a way to retain them."
"We are too overwhelmed to be effective and a case aide and other supportive services would lighten that load," Alexander said.
An ACS spokesperson said that the average caseloads have risen, which they attribute to a flood of calls following the recent high profile cases.
The spokesperson added that they continue to invest in hiring frontline staff and brought in 600 new Child Protective Specialists last year.
The problem, according to the workers we've spoken to, is that the hiring is not keeping pace with those retiring and resigning.
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