Idaho’s child welfare system may get boost: more jobs, higher pay

Budget now moves on to the Idaho House and Senate for consideration

By: - March 4, 2022 4:00 pm
JFAC meets at the Idaho Statehouse

Members of the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee in an October 2021 meeting at the Idaho Capitol. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho Legislature’s budget committee on Friday voted unanimously in favor of $96.6 million in appropriations for Idaho’s child welfare system, as the state grapples with foster care and case worker shortages.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee sent the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s child welfare budget request on to the House of Representatives and the Senate with a “do pass” recommendation.

The committee also approved raises for case workers and safety assessors and additional reimbursement for foster families.

“It’s no secret some of the challenges we’ve had in this division,” said Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise. “And I just want to express gratitude to both the department and the members of this committee who worked hard to make sure that we are doing what we can to make sure that these programs are running smoothly, that the kids are taken care of, and that Idaho is a safe place for them to be.”

The request included 24 additional personnel — 21 social workers and three psychosocial rehabilitation specialists. That will cost $1.8 million per year and includes a 7% pay increase for case workers and safety assessors, on top of the standard state change in employee compensation.

Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen in January presented the budget request with those additional positions for the Child Welfare Division.

“We’ll be really challenged to fill those in the short term, but I’d rather have the number that we need so as we dig our way out of this hiring problem, we can actually get to the level where we can properly serve the kids in the foster care system,” Jeppesen said in January, when the Child Welfare Division had a vacancy rate of 7.4% — equivalent to 30.5 full-time personnel.

The Idaho Capital Sun reported on the issue in a series of stories late last year. During the January budget presentation, a state legislator asked Jeppesen if there were underlying work-culture issues to be addressed in the division.

“I will tell you that the Child Welfare staff … are very open about what their concerns are, which I greatly appreciate, and that was very helpful to hear the concerns on their mind,” Jeppesen said.

Social workers and safety assessors previously were given comp time, not overtime pay, for working long hours — but couldn’t use the comp time due to their workload. The department sought an exemption to that rule, Jeppesen said in January.

“So we have made that change, we have switched to now paying overtime for the folks as they put in those extra hours,” Jeppesen said.

JFAC also unanimously voted in favor of the department’s request to increase foster care reimbursement rates by $6.1 million. Inflation and Idaho’s rising housing costs make it more expensive for foster families to care for children who need foster homes.

JFAC approved a one-time supplemental budget to fund a 30% to 60% rate increase for foster family assistance for the remaining nine months of the fiscal year. A foster family’s rate increase will vary based on the child’s age.

Idaho’s reimbursement rates for foster families are the lowest of any state in the West, Jeppesen said in January.

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

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Audrey Dutton
Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton, senior investigative reporter, joined the Idaho Capital Sun after 10 years at the Idaho Statesman. Her favorite topics to cover include health care, business, consumer protection issues and white collar crime. Dutton hails from Twin Falls. She attended college at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York City. Before coming home to Idaho, Dutton worked as a journalist in Minnesota, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Dutton's work has earned dozens of state, regional and national awards for investigative reporting, health care and business reporting, data visualization and more.

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