The head of a House subcommittee on child abuse says the top issue he wants to deal with in the 2014 session is how the state’s child welfare caseworkers are trained.

Representative Bill Lant’s (R-Pineville) subcommittee looks at the reporting and investigation of child abuse and neglect. He has high praise for the people that take reports at the state hotline center, but says the people that have to investigate those reports aren’t being trained the way past lawmakers wanted them to be.

“They’re not adequately prepared to face what they need to be facing,” says Lant. “They haven’t had on-the-job training … they haven’t been exposed to, if you will, the horrors of the field. It’s hard to describe to someone in a classroom situation that you’re going to walk into a house trailer where cockroaches are going to be falling off the ceiling into your hair, but those are the realities of this job.”

Lant wants to attempt first to address training issues through policy in the Social Services Department’s Children’s Division rather than through new legislation. He says the Division is already interested in improving training.

“I think we need to have quite possibly a lab course,” says Lant, “where (students) actually get out of the school environment and go out on the street and see some of these things, and that’s one of the things the Department is working on.”

The child welfare advocacy group Missouri Kids First says child welfare workers need to be better paid. Lant does say his committee will take a look at their pay scale early in 2014, but he believes training issues are a greater contributor to turnover among those workers.