PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In an effort to address concerns highlighted in a scathing report from the Office of the Child Advocate, the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) has hired 23 additional staff members.
The 57-page report released in early June found DCYF was partly to blame for the death of 9-year-old Zha-Nae Rothgeb, who was found face down in the bathtub of her adopted mother’s home back in January.
The report also found DCYF had ignored complaints about her adoptive mother, Michelle Rothgeb, for years prior to Zha-Nae’s death.
Following the report, DCYF spokeswoman Kerri White said the agency hired another 23 frontline workers: 17 social caseworkers, three frontline supervisors and three child support technicians.
White said the investment will cost the state $1.8 million for the 2020 fiscal year.
“These investments are in line with the Child Advocate’s recent recommendations and will help alleviate pressure on our frontline staff members to ensure they have the time to spend in careful practice ensuring children transition out of DCYF care to stable homes,” White said in a statement.
President of SEIU Local 580 Kathy McElroy said she is pleased with the agency’s investment. She told Eyewitness News she’s been pushing for an increase in staffing for a long time.
“I feel like the squeaky wheel does get the grease,” McElroy said. “I think we have to resource the department appropriately if we expect it to work appropriately.”
McElroy said 20 of the 23 new hires will be part of her union. She said while she believes the increase in staffing is positive, it’s only a small step in a big process.
“They [her union members] took a no-confidence vote in January. They feel what actually has happened between then and now isn’t much,” McElroy explained. “Little incremental changes we’ve made, little incremental progress. But we need a big change and big progress.”
DCYF Director Trista Piccola said the agency is continuing to review its policies and procedures following the report and staffing is just one of the many issues being addressed.
“DCYF is at a crossroads, and the state must do the right thing,” Piccola said. “Investments in staffing, prevention-focused service, and ongoing policy reforms are critical to continuing the transformation of DCYF and protecting our children.”
Piccola was grilled by lawmakers soon after the report was published. During a House Oversight Committee hearing last month, Piccola stopped short of saying DCYF was not adequately staffed, though the Child Advocate recommended the agency hire at least 20 more social workers.
In July, Piccola announced she was stepping down from her post, stating she is relocating with her family to Arizona. Piccola said her leaving had nothing to do with the Child Advocate report.