Governor Jay Nixon (D) is lending his voice to those concerned about the removal from the budget of $4.6-million for the state Children’s Division by the Senate budget committee.
Advocates for children and prevention of abuse say the money would have supported efforts to retain investigators in the division and allow for more expedient response to reports of abuse. They say high turnover and low numbers among investigators as well as slow response has resulted in a backlog of abuse reports and some causes going uninvestigated.
The items eliminated included more than $2.2-million for the Children’s Division Career Ladder including the creation of two new levels of caseworkers, more than $1.5-million for a “mobility project,” involving the use of I-Pads and WiFi for investigators to be able to respond to and deal with reports more quickly and $828-thousand for student loan forgiveness for new investigators.
The Governor included those amounts in his budget proposal and House budget makers kept it in theirs, but this week the Senate budget committee removed it.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) says the career ladder increase would have gone above-and-beyond an overall 1-percent increase in pay for state employees that is included in the FY-15 budget proposal.
Schaefer acknowledges the argument that the state needs to do more to retain child welfare investigators, but says, “This late in the process with that coming up when it did I think that would be difficult … pay increases for employees and additional things for employees that are presented to us as an incentive to give to those employees, those are intriguing ideas but I think we need a little more information on that.”
The Senate committee did not remove $347-thousand dollars for secondary trauma and child abuse training. “Our concern is making sure we’re getting money on the ground for services,” says Schaefer.
The removal of that money disappointed Emily Van Schenkhof, Deputy Director of Missouri Kids First. She says it would allow Missouri to do a better job of investigating reports of child abuse.
“These increases in Children’s Division are vitally important for the safety of Missouri’s children and for us to make positive steps forward in improving our response to investigating.”
Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee for Health, Mental Health and Social Services, Sue Allen (R-Town and Country), says she will fight to restore the funding for the I-Pads and WiFi for investigators.
“Possibly, maybe there is a level of looking at either the loan forgiveness or the career ladder,” says Allen. “We probably can’t do it all, but we kind of prioritize and figure out which things we can do now, and then maybe we put the next things on the burner for next year.”
Told of Schaefer’s concerns with the budget items, Governor Nixon was asked what his message to Schaefer would be.
“Follow the House position and have a little discussion in your committee on stuff this important,” answers Nixon. “The House had interim committees about it. We all have. Everybody here is well aware of the challenges that are faced, the difficult situations that occur in the Children’s Division and are aware that we worked hard with a number of policy makers as well as folks in the legislature to come up with a solid set of recommendations.”
Once the Senate budget committee completes its work on the proposed budget, the full Senate will vote on the proposal and then conferees chose in the House and the Senate will meet to work out differences between the two chambers’ proposals. A budget plan must be sent to the Governor by 6 p.m. May 9.