ROCKFORD (WREX) — Illinois is facing a critical shortage of case workers across child and family services.
"It is across the state, it is across the agencies, we need more workers to do this work," says Children's Home and Aid Associate Vice President of Foster Care Lynsey Sloan.
She says case levels have grown to a level that is unsustainable and more workers are burning out.
"In Rockford, they [case workers] are managing about 22 or so children per worker, which is outside of compliance for our expectations," says Sloan. "We strive for 15 to 1. We're stretched thin over our rations everywhere across the state, but our greatest need is in Rockford right now."
According to new research by Mercer Government, by 2026, Illinois will be short 8,000 positions in health and human services and those positions will remain unfilled.
That is where Rockford University says it is stepping in to try and get ahead of the curve.
This fall, students can now enroll into a new bachelors degree in human services. It will focus on crucial skills needed to serve our communities most vulnerable populations.
"To be able to plan for the future and have those services available is huge," says Associate Professor Elaine Sharpe.
Sharpe says that the program will be critical in getting local talent to fill local needs.
"An educational experience we are going to offer will allow them to both pursue advanced degrees, but also go directly into the field at a case worker level."
The degree will be offered fully online with flexible, eight-week courses starting through out the academic year.
Sharpe says this is the perfect opportunity for working professionals to finish their degree or to begin one if they have an interest in the field.
"They will learn critical skills in the areas of human development, psychology, counseling and all of that will come in handy while working with families who need support," says Sharpe.
As part of the degree, students will also complete business courses to gain an understanding of fundamental skills such as team dynamics, leadership, and budget development to prepare them to become leaders within human services.