The House-Senate budget conference committee has adopted most of the additional money for the Children’s Division within the Missouri Department of Social Services that had been proposed by Governor Jay Nixon (D) and the House. The Senate had removed the nearly $6-million increase over concerns the money would go to pay increases for undeserving employees and technology upgrades that would not succeed in addressing issues facing the Division.
The money was aimed at offering incentives to recruit and retain child abuse investigators and reduce among them a high turnover rate, and to help them whittle down a high caseload and respond faster to reports of abuse.
More than $2.2-million was proposed to create a career ladder in the Children’s Division to offer better pay and responsibility to investigators who earned them. More than $1.5-million was proposed to provide investigators with tablets and internet connectivity so they could more quickly deal with reports. $347,000 was proposed for secondary trauma and child abuse training and $955,704 was proposed to give a 2-3% increase in salary to investigators, beyond a 1% across-the-board salary increase already included in the budget.
The conference committee did not include $828,000 to forgive student loans to investigators in circuits that have seen a high rate of turnover.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) had been a vocal critic of the proposals when his committee removed them from the budget. He was concerned about offering a larger pay increase to those investigators than other state employees would receive, given the highly publicized issues that division has had completing investigations.
Schaefer says his opinion changed after meeting with the Division’s Director, Tim Decker.
“He gave me a personal assurance,” says Schaefer, “That he would direct those increases towards those employees that truly arr meritorious and doing a great job for the State of Missouri, and he would not give those increases to people that did not deserve it or were not doing a good job.”
Schaefer says he was impressed with Decker.
“He’s got a lot of ideas and I’m hoping that he can carry those forward and that what we did, we can help him carry that forward, and he can get some changes in that division.”
Schaefer says he will be watching for improvements in the Division’s performance when handling abuse reports.
The legislature must get its budget proposal to Governor Nixon by the close of business Friday.