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Staffing shortage harming ability  of Children’s Division to help foster kids

Churches and ministries may want to pay extra close attention to children in their communities. Darrell Missey, the new director of the Missouri Children’s Division, says a severe staffing shortage is hurting its ability to meet the needs of kids in the state.

During a legislative committee hearing this week, he said the agency, which handles foster care cases, has 237 job vacancies. He cited one worker handling 38 cases, far more than the accreditation standard of 15 cases each.

“She’s just hanging on, wanting to continue to work for us and says, ‘I don’t know how I get to stay, because I can’t really take care of these people,’” Missey said. “She’s not the highest I’ve heard. She’s just the one who was crying with me this week – and that impacts the kids.”

Missouri has more than 14,000 children in foster care.

“How is having 38 cases, for example, what happens to those kids?” asked Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur. “What happens to those families? How do they then go through a system that isn’t able to support them?”

Missey responded that the agency is doing the bare minimum

“We’re doing what’s required by the law,” he said. “We’re seeing them. We’re showing up at hearings we’re showing up, but there’s certainly a person who’s in that situation doesn’t have time to do the things that I’ve seen great caseworkers do.”

The current caseworker turnover rate is 31 percent and is projected to rise to 37 percent. In Kansas City, it is 88 percent.

“One of the things I’ve been encouraging people to do is to follow their calling to help people,” Missey said. “ But what I recognize is that they’re drowning themselves and to help them we’ve got to get more people for them,” he said.

State Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, is a former case worker. She said boosting pay is key.

“We can’t get clinical social workers to do this work at that pay for that type of work,” she said. Nobody does it for the pay to be really, really clear. Nobody does it for the pay. But when you can easily step aside and go work at a hospital, or work at a different kind of agency, and immediately make $25,000 to $30,000 more with a master’s degree, why would you? Why would you stay on a sinking ship?

“We’ve got to figure out a way and yes, I do think that pay is obviously an answer, especially when you’re talking about recruitment.”

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice