Kelly Paluso, OR
I work with children in foster care and their families to see help them safely reunite. In the almost nine years I’ve been working with families, we’ve had staffing cuts and hiring freezes. That meant that social workers like me had more children on our caseloads, more families we are responsible for, and less time to work with them to make sure they were safe.
Together with my co-workers, we’ve pressed the state to hire back caseworkers and the staff that support us. We surveyed foster care specialists about their caseloads, and our union researched other states’ caseload standards. We found that when we counted children rather than cases we had more than we could safely manage. Through our union Oregon has adopted a caseload goal of 15-20 children per caseworker. That helps us keep our kids safer, and allows us to check in on our kids as we are required to by law and by good social work practice.
Winning better support for vulnerable children has been so important to me and to my co-workers, not to mention the families we serve. So has been our ability to join together, as union members, so that working people’s needs can be heard. If it weren’t for unions, the only interests politicians would hear about are those held by wealthy corporations with their interests and profits in mind.
We need to make it easier—not harder—for people to join together to make jobs better, to make services better, to support our families and those in our community. Unionizing helped caseworkers get vacations and sick time, livable and equitable wages, adequate staffing to protect vulnerable children and families and so much more. Now our union has also helped to expand and protect sick leave for all Oregon workers starting next year. It makes me so optimistic! Working is important—sure—but having a life outside your job, and being able to care for your family when they need you, is important too. I know that if we didn’t have a union our caseloads would be so heavy and demanding that it would be hard to be successful at meeting the needs of the children on my caseload and the needs of my own family.