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Social services director says he’s losing employees because of pay

“I’m in the business of providing child protection and I can’t protect children.”

Elliott Smart
Social Services Director
Debra Moore
Staff Writer
8/28/2014

Though Social Services Director Elliott Smart received authorization to fill more vacant positions in his department, it’s not enough.

“This is the seventh time in three years that I have been talking to you about vacancies,” Smart told the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 12. “We are approaching a crisis situation in child welfare.”

Smart is having difficulty recruiting and retaining employees, and he said that salary is the issue.

As an example, he pointed to a recent posting by the school district for a counseling position, which required fewer qualifications than a beginning social worker, but paid more than a supervisor receives in social services.

While the issue exists throughout social services, it’s reached a critical level in the child welfare portion of the department.

“For the complexity, the stress; it’s not worth it,” Smart said. Child welfare workers must be available around the clock and work in emotionally charged situations.

“I’m in the business of providing child protection and I can’t protect children,” Smart said. “We have to look at this as a big problem.”

Supervisor Sherrie Thrall told Smart that pay is an issue in all of the county departments.

“I understand, but it’s child protection,” Smart responded.

Thrall listed mental health, public health and the sheriff as having the same problems — critical work with low pay.

Sheriff Greg Hagwood, who was in the audience, supported Smart. “The nature of the work performed by these individuals distinguishes itself,” he said. “There is a measurable impact to the entire criminal justice system.”

Supervisor Lori Simpson suggested that the topic be dealt with after the budget is adopted and that perhaps the California State Association of Counties could establish a salary database so that salaries could be compared.

Though social services doesn’t receive general fund money, supervisors fear it could have a domino effect on other departments. The board asked Smart to return with a plan.

“I’m happy to bring back a plan, but I can’t wait until the budget’s done,” he said.


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