WMKY

More Social Workers Needed to Help Protect Kentucky Children

Feb 24, 2020

Credit DePaul Community Resources

Gov. Andy Beshear and Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) Acting Secretary Eric Friedlander met with social work staff to talk about the needs of state child welfare professionals and how Gov. Beshear’s proposal to add 350 more staff can help better protect families and children.

Gov. Beshear and Secretary Friedlander visited the L and N Building in Louisville – which houses the state’s largest social services office – to join Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) leadership and social workers to show support for them and discuss the challenges and rewards of child welfare work.

“Every child deserves to grow up in a safe and loving home,” Gov. Beshear said. “When children are at risk, our social workers respond immediately with support to protect children, give them stability and ultimately try to preserve the family. We must make a serious investment to stop the rampant child abuse and neglect in our state. We must act now to hire more social workers, who can help us protect more children.”

In his budget address last month, Gov. Beshear committed to increase DCBS funding to hire an additional 350 social workers and other support positions in the Child Protection Branch.

Gov. Beshear added that the investment allows the state to reduce caseloads per social worker, which is a key factor in retaining and hiring new social workers.                                       

Jefferson County social worker Amanda Crowell said she and her colleagues dealing with high child welfare caseloads talk about how more social workers would help.

“We love doing the work of helping families – we feel we are making a difference,” she said. “It becomes a matter of serving families well but not as fully as we know we could if we had more time with smaller caseloads. More social work staff would ease our caseloads and give us more time with each family to meet their needs.”

Crowell, who has worked for DCBS for 13 years, said cases might involve several family members, each dealing with complex issues and needs. “It multiplies our workload,” she said. “As social workers, we are committed to serving every client with the dignity they deserve. Gov. Beshear’s proposal to add more social workers will help us do that.”

Including past due cases, DCBS social workers’ average caseload is around 30. In high-populated areas, the caseload average is much higher, at times more than 80. The national recommended average is 15-18 cases per social worker.

November 2017 was the last time the state added social workers with 125 more positions.

The number of DCBS social workers, caseload carrying child protective services positions, caseload carrying adult protective services positions, and vacant social service worker positions, over the years are: January 2017, 1,396; January 2018, 1,402; January 2019, 1,319; and January 2020, 1,309.

Beshear said he also hopes to boost retention of social workers through a proposed raise for all state employees – 1% in the first year, and another 1% on top of that in year two. Gov. Beshear’s proposed budget also fully funds state employee pension plans.

The combined current, average salary for all social worker positions is $3,309.17 per month or $39,710.06 per year.

Friedlander said social workers have told him job satisfaction and effectiveness – making a difference to families – are most important to them.

“It’s basic to say that good morale is important, but within our social services team, it’s even more critical,” he said. “Turnover can negatively affect the quality of our services and add to a child or family’s trauma. Consistency is critically important to the families we serve. But giving them a steady case manager at the center of a core team of helpful, responsible providers shows them that people care about them and will go to great lengths to give their support.”

Friedlander said that he and DCBS leadership are focused on staff resiliency and secondary trauma – the emotional stress that occurs when someone hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another person.

“Our social workers all too often experience secondary trauma by the nature of their work, and the agency is dedicated to ensuring they are given the tools and support needed to better respond to their needs,” he said. “Our desire is become a trauma-informed agency to better support workforce and the Kentuckians we are here to serve.”

(provided by Office of the Governor)