Idaho’s health department planned to ask for 10 more social workers. The governor proposed 21.

Proposal includes a 7% increase in base pay for case managers and safety assessors

By: - January 10, 2022 2:27 pm

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has proposed the addition of 21 social workers and three psychosocial rehabilitation specialists for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, along with a 7% pay increase for safety assessors and case managers. (Kelcie Moseley-Morris/Idaho Capital Sun)

Gov. Brad Little has proposed the addition of 21 social workers and three psychosocial rehabilitation specialists for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, along with a 7% pay increase for safety assessors and case managers. His proposal also increases reimbursement rates for foster families across Idaho.

The proposal will still need approval from the Idaho Legislature. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will consider the Department of Health and Welfare’s budget request in the coming weeks, and it will then receive a vote in the Idaho House of Representatives and the Senate.

The department told the Idaho Capital Sun in December it was planning to request 10 additional social worker positions and three psychosocial rehabilitation specialists from the Legislature. The recommendation comes a few weeks after current and former social workers warned of dire staffing shortages across the agency and increased pressure to perform with fewer social workers.

“Certainly, the governor is aware of the challenges in the child welfare system and the difficulty they’ve had in attracting and retaining talent,” said Alex Adams, the governor’s budget chief. “So in working with the department, the governor more than doubled the request and recommended those 21 social workers.”

Caldwell child advocate says two more social workers quit last week

Turnover has been high across the agency in recent months. During the 2021 fiscal year, 83 people voluntarily quit their jobs in the Child Welfare division. At least 24 of those resignations were mid-level social workers, who said in their exit interviews that stress and workload was the primary reason they quit, particularly after workflow changes at the department that workers said made the job impossible with current staffing levels.

Department of Health and Welfare Deputy Director Miren Unsworth told the Idaho Capital Sun in December that the situation would be worse without the redesign, and that the department was working with recruiters and offering retention bonuses to try to address the issue.

What’s been happening with child welfare in Idaho?

The Idaho Capital Sun has been reporting on the social worker and foster family shortage across the state since November. The first of these stories is located at this link, followed by another about child welfare review panels speaking with legislative leaders about their frustrations. The Sun also interviewed several former and current social workers about why they quit, and a fourth story examined case metrics that have been dropping amid these shortages.

Cindy Floyd, a member of the Citizen Review Panel for the Region 3 health district in Caldwell, said the proposal would be a huge step in the right direction, but more reforms will be needed. Two more social workers in Region 3 quit just last week, she said.

“I think the money is going to perpetuate things to move forward, but I think they’re going to have to be open to listening to stakeholders and finding some solutions, because even if we have the money available, finding 21 social workers that are going to come back into that atmosphere is going to be challenging,” Floyd said.

Problems with overworked social workers at the department have been publicly known since at least 2017, when the Office of Performance Evaluations completed a report for the Idaho Legislature showing between 57 and 77 more social workers were needed. That number was largely the same in 2007, when the department cited a need for 75 more workers.

Between 2007 and 2017, the report noted 18 full-time social worker positions were added. From 2017 to 2021, 16 additional social worker positions were requested, for a total of 24.

The 7% base pay increase comes in addition to the 2% Change in Employee Compensation increase recommendation for all state employees, along with potential merit increases.

Foster families will need more than rate increases, court advocate says

Along with social worker shortages, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is also dealing with a shortage of foster families for children who have been removed from their homes. Cameron Gilliland, administrator of the health department’s Family and Community Services, said by mid-December, 67 foster children had been placed in Airbnb rentals and hotels because of a lack of foster parents. Most of those placements have occurred in the past six months, usually for up to 10 days but sometimes “quite a bit longer” than that, according to Gilliland.

Little in his State of the State address on Monday proposed reimbursement rate increases for all foster families in Idaho, with a 60% increase for families with foster children ages 12 and younger. Foster families currently receive between $395 and $584 per child each month, depending on the child’s age.

Jenny Easley, a court-appointed special advocate for Region 3 who represents children in foster care cases, said those increases are a good start to address the problems in the foster care system.

“Foster parents need to make more money,” Easley said. “I think more money could also be allocated for training foster parents and supporting them.”

That includes behavioral health support, which is difficult to access, according to Easley. Wait lists for many Medicaid providers are between three and nine months long, and Idaho has a shortage of mental health care providers of all kinds.

Floyd, who is also a volunteer for Office Moms and Dads and sits with foster children while they await placement in a home, said more could be done to support children from the time they come into care, with a designated provider available to the department and a call center that would be available to foster families at all times when they run into behavioral issues with a child.  

“Foster parents are going to appreciate the rate increase, but I will say most foster parents don’t do it for the money,” Floyd said. “I think they would also appreciate having somebody there when they’re in crisis.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.