Two-thirds of Kentucky’s child protective services social workers are in training or entry level

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Another area reporting a shortage of employees is that of caseworkers for the Department for Community Based Services, according to testimony presented before a legislative committee last week, leading lawmakers to express concerns.

DCBS Commissioner Marta Miranda-Straub and Deputy Commissioner Lesa Dennis told the Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee the number of child protective services intakes has climbed to 112,000 since October 2020 an all-time high in the number of children in state care.

Staffing problems have grown much worse as well, they testified, with nearly 400 cases and social workers leaving the department since the beginning of the year, with the result being 66 percent of DCBS social workers are either still in training or considered entry-level employees.

That has led to a surge in the average monthly caseloads soaring past what’s permitted by state law and national averages. The reports show social workers handle 26 ongoing cases, and between 70 and 80 cases in Jefferson and Fayette counties.

“Right now, the ability of DCBS to serve Kentucky children is in utter freefall,” said Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford and the panel co-chair. “Kentucky already led the nation in reported cases of child abuse and neglect before the pandemic, and those numbers continue to skyrocket. It’s concerning when you consider that higher caseloads lead to more children not being taken care of and left suffering in dangerous or fatal situations.”

During the committee meeting, the DCBS officials explained the workforce issue stems from low wages and suggested increased funding to address staff shortages. Meade shared that the legislature had previously worked to increase social worker salaries, but that the administration raised concerns that the proposed raises targeted those who work directly with children.

“Those raises were discussed in our meetings and one thing we heard back from DCBS is that they were focused on pay disparity and that they didn’t want social workers making more than supervisors,” Meade added. “We understand that, but maybe with the stress level that these folks are facing we do need to look at paying frontline workers more. Maybe pay disparity is not what we need to look at right now, maybe we need to focus on where we need workers.”

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