Gov. Steve Beshear is supporting a $21 million, two-year investment for Kentucky’s child welfare services, paying for nearly 300 new positions.
The Department for Health and Family Services and its Department of Community Based Services, which operates the child welfare division, has been a hot topic this legislative season for some who believe the agencies aren’t transparent enough. When a group of nearly 250 child welfare advocates and lawmakers met last weekend, one key initiative was to reduce case worker loads; now some relief has been written in Beshear’s two-year budget.
In the State of the Commonwealth address, Beshear said case loads have increased 8 percent since 2008 while staffing levels have dropped 12 percent.
Now, the Department of Community Based Services (DCBS) has been allocated funds for 300 positions in two areas of the agency. One is family support, which administers SNAP and Medicaid. The second is in protection services.
“In addition we will be looking at our protection and permanency side of the house across the state, and beginning to determine where we have critical need and filling those by the critical need in whatever areas are most urgent,” said Teresa James, acting commissioner for DCBS.
There is not a disproportionate area in Kentucky that has been significantly neglected, according to James. Although depending on turnover rates, different areas may fluctuate with needing more help at times, she said.
“We have tried to maintain that equally as well as we could,” said James.
However, it may be difficult to fill those 300 new positions with well qualified workers, said Rep. Tom Burch, D-30, who chairs the Health and Welfare Committee. Burch has been a staunch proponent of legislative changes to make the cabinet more transparent.
Burch said while the $21 million allocated to the agency is a good thing, filling the 300 positions with qualified employees that will remain at their job will difficult without raising their pay, he said.
Burch could not say whether that was being planned for future legislation, but the focus has more recently been on how to make the cabinet more transparent.
The agency is willing to work with legislators to come to an agreement on changes regarding transparency and accountability, said James.
The budget still needs final approval from the General Assembly.