Despite a flood of applications for new state jobs working with foster children, the Department of Human Services still hasn’t officially hired anyone for its understaffed Child Welfare Division.

That means the state has yet to bring on board the first member of a new generation of hires who, state leaders hope, will help revamp the troubled foster care system.

For years, according to external audits and reviews, the child welfare division operated in survival mode, with high caseloads swamping inexperienced employees. That puts the roughly 7,000 kids in the state’s care on any given day at risk.

Oregon DHS says it has received more than 5,400 applications for 313 new jobs.

“We are all blown away and thrilled with the interest in these positions,” said Jake Sunderland, a spokesman for DHS Child Welfare.

The agency has made some offers, but as of Friday, none have been accepted.

However, the agency says its prospects are bright after embarking on an ambitious recruitment effort. More than 300 job listings were posted in late July. The agency says it has made key changes in how it recruits and hires new candidates.

For instance, the agency started using video chat to conduct first-round interviews with about 1,000 applicants.

The agency also boosted staff dedicated to recruitment and conducting background checks, and created videos that explain each job.

Those changes were spurred by a recent effort by the governor to turn around the state’s foster care system, after years of intense scrutiny and a recent scandal over how the state ships children to facilities out of state with little monitoring.

In April, Gov. Kate Brown convened a special work group of top state executives and experts to meet behind closed doors to perform triage on the struggling system.

Brown also hired a team of crisis consultants for about $1 million.

Some of the jobs DHS is looking to fill are office specialists and assistants who, administrators hope, will reduce the crushing workload for caseworkers.

The department stopped accepting applications for office specialist and a social services assistant position due to the deluge of applications.

A third position, a supervisory role to train and mentor child welfare workers, is expected to be closing soon.

The 313 jobs are spread over five positions, with more than half — 165 — of those for caseworkers.

The agency is still accepting applications for caseworker roles and supervisors of caseworkers. The agency is urging interested people to visit https://www.oregon.gov/DHS/CHILDREN/Pages/Careers.aspx.

A spokesman said the biggest need is in district offices serving Dallas, Salem, McMinnville, Roseburg, Coos Bay, Grants Pass, Medford, Klamath Falls and Ontario.

Reporter Claire Withycombe: cwithycombe@eomediagroup.com or 971-304-4148.

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