BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — The North Dakota Department of Human Services has been called out in a recent audit for not following its own investigative policies in a timely manner.

Executive Director Chris Jones says for the most part he agrees with the recommendations presented in the audit.

“Really worked collaboratively as the audit was being done,” said Jones. “Obviously there is some questions on the numbers, but at the end of the day, the trends are still accurate and we need to focus on the health and safety of children in the state of North Dakota.”

In 2016 the federal government came in to start a performance improvement plan. One of the areas that the plan was going to focus on was timeliness.

“Through some pilot studies that we could improve in the timeliness of following up on child abuse and neglect reports and through that pilot we fully anticipated continue moving that forward,” said Jones.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which caused everything to shut down.

“Then you exacerbate by the great resignation, by the increase in workload for child welfare workers and then the inflation that occurred,” said Jones. “And being able to catch up with that in order to recruit and retain workers that we have.”

Jones says the one good thing that did occur is DHS began working towards improvement before the pandemic.

The DHS is planning on bringing a package to the legislative session regarding child welfare and safety.

“It has really been a focus of the department in the last two budget cycles. How to be a voice for children and families,” said Jones. “How do we make sure families have the resources where they can thrive.”

Jones agrees that the department needs to be more timely when it comes to following up on cases.

“I think the most important thing for us to work through is we need to be more timely as relates to following up and make sure the resources are there but the trend is continuing to go up,” said Jones.

Jones says he has been talking with lawmakers to help raise awareness for the growing trend of child abuse cases.

“We have been in constant conversation with legislators as it relates to how we make the right investments at the right time,” said Jones. “So, I feel pretty confident that there will be a pretty comprehensive package that the governor will present to the legislature.”

The audit was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jones says the department was already implementing solutions.

“So, many of the items that are in there have already been addressed,” said Jones. “So for the most part we are where we need to be.”