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Social services staff will still see raises, secretary says

March 10, 2022 GMT

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s social services agency secretary said Thursday he intends for employees in the state’s foster care system to get 15% raises, after lawmakers essentially gutted a bill to provide the increases.

Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said the agency will collapse open positions to provide the much-needed raises to child protective services employees.

“It’s our intention to fund these increases,” Crouch said, during a Senate Finance Committee meeting. “These staff are so important to what we do. This is one of the most difficult jobs in government and recruitment and retention is just so tough.”

The statement came after a letter from West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice read during Thursday’s meeting that gave Crouch permission to eliminate open positions in order to provide raises.

“The governor wants these positions funded,” Crouch said.

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In West Virginia, more than 6,000 children are in the care of the state and there is a 30% vacancy rate statewide for foster care employees, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Resources. Just over 10 years ago, a little more than 4,000 youth were in foster care in West Virginia, according to data compiled by the Chronicle of Social Change.

A September 2021 investigation by Mountain State Spotlight and the GroundTruth Project found a pattern of abuse and neglect of foster kids in out-of-state residential facilities. In several cases, the investigation found the Department of Health and Human Resources continued or renewed contracts with the facilities despite its own inspection reports revealing abuse.

Lawmakers were considering a bill that would give raises of at least 15% to all caseworkers and other staff who work directly with families and children. The increase would be in addition to the 5% raise for state employees being pushed by Justice.

The proposal also stipulated that the state contract with an independent expert to evaluate the foster care system’s intake process and make recommendations. It also mandated that the state create public databases of child welfare statistics and a database of available foster families to help social workers place children.

It passed through the House last month with all but one lawmaker voting in favor and was greenlit by the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee.

But in the Senate Finance Committee, the raises were gutted, along with the centralized intake system recommendations and public database. A provision was added requiring that a medical professional who reports abuse and neglect be automatically screened as not to delay the start of investigations, among other changes.

It passed the committee and will now go before the full Senate.