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Haley says ‘yes’ to more child-welfare workers

07/25/2014 9:25 PM

07/25/2014 10:50 PM

Gov. Nikki Haley will back the state Department of Social Services’ request for 202 more child-welfare workers that the agency says it needs to lower caseloads to manageable levels, her spokesman said Friday.

“While the coming year’s budget process is still in its early stages, this effort is a major priority,” Haley spokesman Doug Mayer wrote in an email to The State.

The additional workers would increase – by 25 percent – the agency’s child-welfare workers who investigate child abuse and manage foster-care cases.

It also would be the second request by the agency, which reports directly to the governor, for new employees since Republican Haley took office. The first request – to hire 50 additional workers – came this year after Social Services fielded legislative questions about high turnover and workloads among its case workers.

Mayer did not answer The State’s question about why the agency or Haley had not requested more caseworkers earlier.

Mayer said Haley will work with Social Services on its request for support “to ensure the aggressive caseload goals they set are achieved. ... Establishing the appropriate caseload recommendations is an issue across the country right now and why (Social Services) began establishing this new methodology a year ago.”

Social Services began a review of its workers’ caseloads in August, seven years after a state auditing agency recommended taking action to lower caseloads.

A Social Services deputy director told senators Wednesday that the staffing increase would cost about $10 million in state and federal money. Of the new employees, 109 would be front-line caseworkers working with children and families, and 79 would be supervisors. The rest would relieve day workers in the evenings.

Social Services’ request follows several months of legislative scrutiny of the agency, prompted by the deaths of children who the agency was charged with protecting.

Social Services Director Lillian Koller, whom Haley appointed in 2011, resigned in June, saying her tenure at the agency’s helm had become a “distraction.”

Increasing the staff at Social Services has not been a priority during Haley’s administration.

Instead, Haley’s and Koller’s budget requests have aimed at maintaining previous years’ levels of funding while seeking millions to pay for the development and operation of the state’s federally mandated, automated child-support enforcement system.

In their 2012 through 2014 budget requests, Haley and Koller sought $14.4 million for development of the state’s child-support enforcement system, an additional $11.5 million to operate that system and, this year, $1.6 million to raise payments to foster families for the first time since the 2006-07 budget year.

This year’s request for 50 new hires did not require additional state money, the agency’s budget request said.

Before this year, the agency last asked for more employees in the budget year starting July 1, 2010, before Haley took office.

That year, Social Services asked for 41 new employees, including 33 to help foster-care workers more quickly find children permanent homes. None of the 41 would have been front-line caseworkers directly responsible for children or families.

None of the positions requested in 2010 were approved by lawmakers, Social Services officials said Thursday.

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A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to Follow The Buzz @buzzatthestate. Follow Cassie @cassielcope. Follow Jamie @jamiemself. Follow Andy @andyshain.

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