CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A report to state legislators concludes West Virginia continues to have trouble retaining enough child protective services workers.

The same report also recommends that the state Department of Health and Human Resources improve efforts to maintain licensing and criminal background records as long as child protective services workers are on the job.

Those conclusions were presented to legislative leaders on Post Audits Subcommittee.

MORE: Read the report on child protective services.

West Virginia’s drug epidemic has increased child protective services caseloads, the report concluded. Since 2015, the number of substance related referrals has increased by 79 percent.

At the same time, the state’s social services agency has had trouble keeping workers.

The state’s overall turnover rate in 2019 has been 27 percent, according to the audit.

That is an improvement from the 2017 turnover rate of 40 percent and the 2018 turnover rate of 41 percent.

“High turnover rates and lack of retention continues to be an issue within DHHR,” according to the audit.

“Although it appears that turnover rates may be improving overall, certain areas of the state continue to have difficulties retaining staff.”

At the end of fiscal 2019, the audit noted, there were 86 vacant child protective services positions.

That equates to only 82 percent of child protective services workers being filled.

Auditors recommended developing new retention goals that can be measured, plus options for making starting salaries more competitive.

West Virginia’s starting salary for child protective services workers is $31,164, lower than most surrounding states.

“That $31,000 is actually a significant increase from where we were a few years ago,” said Cammie Chapman, associate general counsel for DHHR.

She thanked legislators for efforts to get the salary to that point.

“We are starting to see, by the numbers going down of the turnover rate, we are starting to see some of the effects,” she said.

Meanwhile, the audit concluded the state Bureau for Children and Families doesn’t have a system in place to monitor the licensing status of social workers.

“We agree that we need a more formalized process to ensure the social work license is in place and in the personnel file,” Chapman said.

The agency also has not been performing criminal background checks for employees after their original hire, the audit concluded. Chapman indicated steps are being taken to improve that matter too.