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DSS to keep caseworkers in schools

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Department of Social Services wants to continue use of three caseworkers in schools, which it feels are benefiting troubled and absentee students.

DSS Commissioner Anne Solar recently addressed the Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee about the youth education situation at the County Office Building.

She requested authorization to continue a contract with the Gloversville Enlarged School District for two School Intervention Partnership Program, or SIPP caseworkers. The total cost for the caseworkers — with salary and fringes — is approximately $152,000. The school district reimburses DSS for the local share (25 percent) of costs for salary and benefits. Federal and state funding is also kicked in, and there is no county cost after reimbursement.

“For a number of years, the department has had a SIPP caseworker in the [Gloversville] district,” Solar said.

She told the committee that the Gloversville school system currently contracts with DSS for two caseworkers who provide “preventive” services on-site in the school setting. The current contract expires June 30. The committee voted to continue a contract from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, with the full board taking final action May 10.

Solar said the Gloversville district wants to continue the contract another year, and included funding in its proposed 2021-2022 budget.

The commissioner said that DSS “likewise” finds the SIPP workers to be an advantageous and cost-effective method of delivering services to youth, and wants to continue the contract.

In another proposed resolution before the committee, Solar requested continuation of a “school success” initiative caseworker. That full-time caseworker is focused on preventive services for families of young children experiencing educational neglect or chronic absenteeism. This caseworker is intended for “lower grades,” Solar said, especially children who miss school.

“We’re trying to reverse the trend very early on,” Solar said.

There is no local share cost for the “school success” caseworker, whose annual cost of salary, benefits and administration is $104,225. That is derived from funding through a federal-state partnership.

Solar noted that the Board of Supervisors in 2019 approved creation of the original position for a trial period through Aug. 31, 2021. But she said the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the progress of the caseworker and the position is currently vacant.

She said that with COVID and virtual learning – and an extended leave of absence and subsequent resignation of the assigned worker – no one has been assigned to the position since mid-2020.

But in the first couple months it was in place, Solar said the position proved to be “very promising.”

She said that although DSS had only six months experience with the program, the department feels that “limited experience showed significant promise, not only with educational neglect, but improving family engagement in general.”

Solar said DSS wants to continue the program as long as 100 percent funding is available.

The committee supported continuation of the caseworker, with the full board voting May 10 on a possible two-year extension. DSS has already identified a current caseworker to assume the position, Solar said.

“I’m really excited about that,” Solar said of the renewed initiative.

She said that DSS was able to engage traditionally-resistant families and facilitate attendance in 35 percent of cases referred the first six months of the original program.

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