Idaho Health and Welfare calls for 24 additional social workers and makes overtime changes |

BOISE — Idaho Department of Health and Wellness Director Dave Jeppesen submitted a budget request Monday morning with 24 additional social worker positions for the Division of Child Protection, a increase of three positions from Governor Brad Little’s recommendation of 21 workers.

The department also received a statewide exemption that will allow social workers to be paid for overtime, in addition to a pay raise for social workers and security evaluators and raises. reimbursement for host families.

Members of the joint finance and appropriations committee peppered Jeppesen with questions related to the shortages of social workers and foster families the department has faced in recent months.

The ministry reported a vacancy rate of 7.4% in the Child Protection Division, which equates to 30.5 full-time employees. These vacancies have many explanations, including retirement, but it’s straining the system, Jeppesen said.

“I recognize the issues and assure you that we are committed to resolving the issues,” Jeppesen said.

Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, mentioned the Idaho Capital Sun’s previous reporting on the matter in a question to the director, saying he likely wasn’t the only one who read the story series and find it very disturbing.

“Deep down I see these demands, which I feel are necessary to drive what’s going on there, but there seem to be deeper cultural issues that affect recruitment and retention within the division. , and I wonder if you’ve had a chance since this series came out to engage with the staff there to figure out how we can fix the culture in this division,” Nash said.

Jeppesen said that after the articles were published, he had read nearly all of the comments from an engagement survey conducted within the division in October and that the responses were honest about working conditions in the department. Jeppesen said he also held town hall meetings with individuals about their concerns.

“I’ll tell you that the child protection staff … are very open about their concerns, which I really appreciate, and it’s been very helpful to hear the concerns that concern them,” Jeppesen said.

The frustration is most concentrated in Treasure Valley, he said, but the problem is statewide. One of the main concerns that Jeppesen heard from staff was overtime. Department staff asked the Idaho Department of Human Resources to create an exemption for social workers and safety assessors to be paid for overtime hours rather than earning compensation time, which workers often max out. and still can’t take time off because their workload doesn’t allow it.

“So we made this change, we moved to paying overtime for people as they work that overtime,” Jeppesen said.

There is a list of concerns that the leadership team is addressing, he said, that will be shared with the legislative committee.

The request for 24 additional staff costs nearly $1.8 million on an annual basis and includes a 7% wage increase for social workers and security assessors amounting to $921,200 in addition to the change in standard statement of employee compensation.

Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked Jeppesen about the feasibility of hiring 24 additional social workers in the current job market as employers in all sectors struggle to find workers. Jeppesen said the request was more about planning for the future.

“I think we will be really challenged to fill them in the short term, but I would prefer to have the number we need so that as we work to solve this hiring problem, we can really get to the level where we can properly serve children in the foster care system,” Jeppesen said.

Ministry calls for increased reimbursements for foster families

The budget also includes $6.1 million to increase foster care reimbursement rates, which Jeppesen says would help families care for children in foster care, especially as the costs of housing and the like have increased in Idaho over the past two years.

Idaho’s reimbursement rates for foster families are the lowest of any western state, Jeppesen said, and a shortage of foster homes has led the department to house children in Airbnb and to rent hotels for days or weeks at a time. This particular situation only happened in Treasure Valley, he said, but across the state there are situations where it takes more than 24 hours to find a placement for a child, which usually results in the child staying at the Department of Health and Welfare. office overnight with staff members.

The situation for foster families is exacerbated by staff shortages in case work and safety assessment, the director said, because staff provide a lot of support to children and families, and if that support is not present, children may end up staying longer in foster care. than would otherwise be necessary.

“There is no doubt that collectively we can do better when it comes to the child welfare system in Idaho,” Jeppesen said. “We want to do better. We owe it to the children of Idaho.

What happens next?

The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee is hearing budget requests from state government departments and will then vote on whether to approve those budgets in the coming weeks. If the committee approves the budget for the Department of Health and Welfare, it will still need a final vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

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