The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a series of supplemental appropriations – allocations of funds within the current budget year – this morning, including a plan to increase the state’s child welfare staff. Caseloads have been soaring; there were 2,714 children in foster care in Idaho in fiscal year 2017, a 6 percent increase from the previous year and 13 percent higher than 2013’s count. Plus, increasingly, more kids are coming onto foster care than are leaving; last year, 184 more kids arrived in Idaho’s foster care system than left.
The nationwide opioid crisis is the likely culprit, according to state budget documents, as more and more parents become drug addicts.
The increase in child welfare staffing was a need highlighted by state Health & Welfare Director Russ Barron during the department’s earlier budget hearing; it also was recommended by Gov. Butch Otter.
Otter had recommended adding 13 additional child welfare workers will be added this year, including seven social workers, two social worker supervisors, one program manager, two business analysts and one communication specialist; the positions would be located in Caldwell, Boise and Lewiston. Next year’s budget includes a request to continue the new positions. The joint committee voted instead to add seven social workers and two supervisors this year, leaving the additional four positions for consideration in the fiscal year 2019 budget.
Legislative budget writers also ordered the department to submit a report no later than Oct. 1, 2018, on how it intends to address child welfare staffing issues related to caseloads, workloads, recruitment, retention and morale, as discussed in the Legislature’s interim committee on foster care and in Office of Performance Evaluation reports on related issues.
The supplemental appropriation bill still needs House and Senate passage and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change once they’re set by the joint committee, which includes 10 senators and 10 representatives.