GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The state of Michigan says CPS is stretched thin by the worker shortage that’s hit both the public and private sector.

“It’s very urgent,” said Demetrius Starling, referring to the need for workers. “(Staff) are really working day and night to ensure that kids are safe. They are working above and beyond.”

Starling said Children’s Protective Services is down 280 caseworkers across the state. That’s 17% short of the 1,644 CPS employees for which the state budgeted.

Starling, the senior deputy director of the Children’s Services Administration, said CPS staff are putting in overtime, and supervisors who usually work behind the scenes are stepping in to fill gaps.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say anything is being overlooked (as a result of the shortage),” said Starling. “I don’t think anything gets left by the wayside. I just think staff are really just working extra hard. They’re working diligently … to ensure the cases get all the attention that they need.”

As of February 2023, the average caseload across all CPS workers was nine families per worker, according to the state.

“I truly believe that this is still a noble line of work,” said Starling, who’s been with the agency himself for 24 years. “I think that when you dedicate your life, dedicate your career to protecting children and protecting families and giving them the support and guidance to be able to thrive on their own, that gives you a sense of accomplishment.”

Starling said some people have an incorrect perception of what CPS does in the community.

“There has unfortunately been a negative stereotype or stigma about CPS staff, that we’re here to dismantle families, that we’re not here for the best interest of the families,” said Starling. “That’s not accurate. Our staff are truly dedicated to assisting our families to thrive on their own, to give them all the support and guidance that they need.”

Starling said caseworkers can make anywhere from $49,000 to $80,000 depending on their education and experience level. You need a bachelor’s degree, but you do not need experience for entry level positions.

“I just want to make sure people understand that from the onset of when you come to our department, you will receive all the training and support you need to be successful,” explained Starling. “We do understand that this is a very difficult job, but you have folks … who’ve been in the trenches, who’ve been in those field positions and can walk you through that.”

According to the state, the turnover rate for CPS workers, minus those who move positions internally, is 16.5%.

“With regard to the reasons that people leave, we tend to see a number of people saying it’s related to work-related stress,” Bob Wheaton, a public information officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in an email to News 8.

Wheaton noted that federal courts put limits on the number of cases assigned per worker.   

“Under (the) federal court requirement, CPS caseworkers assigned to investigate allegations of abuse or neglect shall have a caseload of no more than 12 open investigations,” wrote Wheaton. “CPS caseworkers assigned to provide ongoing services shall have a caseload of no more than 17 families.” 

Wheaton said the state is poised to offer positions to 50 CPS applicants but needs to fill a couple hundred more vacancies.  

He said the agency interviewed approximately 200 candidates in April alone.