By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s been nearly two years since Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services began to roll out a new system of outsourcing child welfare cases to community agencies.

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Wednesday, City Council held a public hearing to check on the progress of a new DHS system.

The results have been rocky.  DHS began rolling out its “Improving Outcomes for Children” initiative in January of 2013.  At that time, community umbrella agencies (“CUAs”) slowly began taking on DHS cases.

The rollout started with just two agencies in 2013.  Eight more CUAs came online in 2014, and as of November all ten CUAs have been activated.

Collectively, they supervise nearly half of the approximately 5,000 children under DHS care.

“I don’t believe all the CUA agencies are performing at the level that I would like them to be,” testified Vanessa Garrett Harley, at the hearing before City Council’s Committee on Public Health and Human Services.  Harley, an attorney, became commissioner of DHS in August.

She says the CUA workers must undergo weeks of training and are supervised by DHS workers, who handle the most difficult cases.

But the transition has been tough. Harley testified that more than one of the CUAs is working at a level that is of “much more concern than the others.”

“It’s still very new in the process,” she testified.   “We are trying to work with them to develop.”

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She says DHS can and will step in if necessary.

“To the extent that we have to undergird the process, we will,” she told City Council.

“My co-workers are getting worn out physically, mentally, and emotionally,” said Charles Younger, a social worker who worked at DHS until a month ago.  He told lawmakers the number of DHS cases is increasing faster than the work force.  New child abuse laws, for example, have expanded the definition of child abuse, which increased the number of DHS cases.

“Increased demands and stress have forced many workers to leave the agency,” he said.  “There are other dire consequences. For example, I have seen extremely high levels of uncovered cases and tremendous backlogs in courts.”

As for parents of children in custody, there’s confusion over whether DHS or the CUA is in charge.

“One says one thing and the other says another thing,” says Desiree Whitfield, who has a nine-year-old daughter in foster care.  “I’ve have photos of my daughter in dirty clothes. When you call the DHS line, no one does anything about (it).”

Harley says DHS is still ramping up its use of CUAs and more time is needed to gather data on outcomes.

Council will work to consider next steps.

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