State audit reveals seven year backlog for Social Services cases

The State Auditor's office says it will take seven years for Missouri's Department of Social Service to get through the a backlog of cases needing a hearing. The finding comes in a new audit of the department's legal division. KRCG talked to department officials to see what they plan to do about the backlog.The Division of Legal Services is made up of hearing officers who make judgements on a host of issues including establishing paternity, establishing child support, enforcing child support orders, or modifying child support obligations.

Before the judgement is made, an additional hearing officer must review it. Officials say that step makes the process take longer, but don't plan to change it.

"If we just simply had to write a report and then it was over, we could eliminate it much more quickly," said Department of Social Services Communications Director Brian Hauswirth. "But that's not the proper way to do it, a, and b, there's no question; if you do it like that you're going to see more decisions that are thrown out and it's going to come back and we're going to do it all over again."

It currently takes about seven-and-a-half months to complete the hearing process from start to finish and it appears to be getting worse. Back in 2006, it took just over four-and-a-half months.

The audit showed that of the 24,000 requests for hearings between January 2006 and June 2008, about a third of those cases, nearly 7,400 hundred, were still pending.

So what is the department doing to reduce the backlog? Hauswirth says they are focusing on more and better training for officers and clerical staff. The legal division also wants to decrease turnover, currently at 25 percent.

"When you lose someone, not only do you have to train the next person but then it takes time to hire, etc," said Hauswirth. "And that person's down and the hearing officers that are left have more work and it takes more work for them to review."Social Services Communications Director Brian Hauswirth also says recent federal court and state legislature mandates to have the Department of Social Services review additional types of cases, including decisions on which parent must pay for a child's medical coverage, has increased the inflow of hearing requests.

Hauswirth adds that the department disagrees with how long it will take hearing officers to eliminate the backlog. But, he says, they cannot give an estimated completion date.