Somerset County Courthouse

Somerset  County Courthouse

SOMERSET – Somerset County’s Children and Youth Services caseworkers oftentimes serve on the frontlines of investigations involving harrowing allegations of child abuse and neglect.

In county Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes’ words, they perform a critical job, but also one that “isn’t for everyone.”

As in many counties across Pennsylvania, that’s been all too clear for Somerset in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified workforce shortages across a broad range of career fields, the commissioners said.

On Tuesday, the board took a step aimed at enlisting the hundreds of employees they have across the county to help them fill their CYS vacancies.

In a 3-0 vote, the approved a $500 incentive program that would pay county workers for each referral that leads to a hire through the end of the year.

An employee would receive $250 after the caseworker they refer completes this or her probation period and another $250 if that person remains with Somerset County CYS for a full year.

Human Resources Director Jodi Lepley said she designed the program and is hopeful it will make a difference.

In 2020, the county boosted the entry-level pay to approximately $30,000 – and increased level II and III salaries by another $5,000 to lure and retain more workers.

Through two contract negotiations over the past decade, salaries have been increased in the field by $8,000, Tokar-Ickes said.

As of Tuesday, there were seven caseworker vacancies.

Lepley said she’s hopeful that county employees who work within the department and others will be able to find good people for the jobs.

One-on-one conversations can often yield results a help-wanted ad cannot, she said.

Notices are being sent to all of Somerset County’s approximately 425 employees, including courthouse workers, jail staff and others, she said.

“It’s just another tool in our toolbox to recruit individuals,” President Commissioner Gerald Walker said.

“This problem isn’t unique to Somerset County,” Commissioner Colleen Dawson added.

But it may be unique to the field, Tokar-Ickes said.

COVID-19 – and extended unemployment benefits – might not be what’s holding people back from seeking the work, she said.

“Retaining caseworkers is always a challenge,” Tokar-Ickes said. “There’s not a huge group of people with the background, the training and maybe even the fortitude for this type of work.” 

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

Trending Video

Recommended for you