This editorial originally appeared in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and was distributed by The Associated Press.
Gov. Jim Justice’s initiative to provide robust and welcome pay raises for the thin and overworked ranks of child welfare workers in West Virginia is a fine example of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Justice and Bill Crouch, Cabinet secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, announced recently that the governor had identified funding for 15% pay hikes for social service workers — about 970 of whom will be eligible for the boost in pay.
Where does the money in the governor’s grand plan come from? Vacancies in the department.
That’s right. To provide extra dollars to fatten state paychecks for a select few, the governor is willfully reducing the ranks of human resources available to monitor the welfare of about 7,000 foster children in the state — among West Virginia’s more vulnerable populations.
And yet the governor regards his plan as some sort of master stroke of fiscal management.
“And what we did is, we had vacancies. And as those vacancies were never filled and they’d been there vacant — and if we ever get people applying and all that, we’ll revisit — but right now all we had to do was mind the store the right way and be able to compensate these people more that are doing unbelievable work,” Justice said.
That’s right, instead of calling in and deferring to proven and experienced consultants in human resources on effective strategies to fill important jobs, instead of developing a plan to put more trained professionals in the field where they are desperately needed to keep kids out of harm’s way, the governor is playing a shell game with the state’s finances, collapsing paid positions so that he can move those budgeted salaries into pay hikes for those who remain.
At the end of the day, the workers will be required to do more, to take on additional cases and the kids will bear the brunt of the governor’s accounting.
As it stands, social workers in the state’s Child Protective Services are already falling short of making necessary contacts for each of their cases. And now, that responsibility will become even more difficult to handle.
Simply, the governor is increasing the odds that a foster child will be neglected or abused — sexually or physically or both — because there are fewer social workers available to act as a shield for so many children who need a super hero.
In December of last year, Commissioner Jeffrey Pack of the DHHR was testifying before the Senate Joint Committee on Children and Families, addressing specifically a vacancy rate of 27 percent at Child Protective Services.
“When you’re up over 40% [vacancies], you’re in trouble,” Pack said. “Just to think about what that means, if you’re a CPS worker ..., ordinarily, you would have 12 cases. Well, now you’ve got 24.”
And that is the situation the governor’s plan exacerbates.
Memo to the governor: Yes, the state needs to bump pay for social service workers. But when you intentionally and simultaneously increase their caseloads, the results will be disastrous for even more children, a great many of whom the state is failing to protect as it is.
To the children, this is no game. This is their life. Their means of survival.