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Justice administration announces changes meant to bolster social services workers

Gov. Jim Justice announced a series of steps meant to shore up the performance of the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

The highlight is a 20 percent raise for starting child protective services, adult protective services and youth services workers. Employees previously hired in these categories who fall below the new salary classification will immediately be brought up to the new salary classification, officials said.

Jim Justice

“We all know that child welfare has been at the forefront of the issues facing DHHR and we have doubled down on our efforts on recruitment and retention,” Justice stated.

“These workers face extremely difficult challenges in their daily work and we need to ensure that they know that we support them in the important work they do to serve the families of West Virginia.”

The moves to try to bolster the social services workforce have followed expressions of deep legislative concern about the system’s performance.

Senate leaders earlier this month asked for concrete steps to improve West Virginia’s child welfare system.

“Unfortunately, DHHR has not made adequate progress for our children and families. In some areas, we have even lost ground. Making matters worse, the Legislature has struggled to secure answers from DHHR on how to specifically solve these grave problems,” senators wrote in a seven-page letter.

Justice today said, “Let’s do. Let’s do make things better.”

More aspects of the announcement for DHHR include:

Additional improvements include:

  • Modifying a current retention bonus to a 10 percent increase to the base salary for those employees who experience their second- and fourth-year work anniversaries and a 5 percent increase to the base salary for those employees who experience their sixth- and eighth-year work anniversaries. The retention plan will apply retroactively to current employees to their benefit.
  • Establishing a special hiring rate of $50,000 for child protective services workers in Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties to be more competitive with the surrounding states.
  • Increasing Youth Services classification to the same pay grade as CPS workers.
  • Creating 27 new full-time positions as paraprofessional staff to support field staff with administrative functions (coordinating travel and paperwork) that can take away time for actual casework.
  • Creating 10 new full-time positions for policy and licensing to support the increase in licensing/policy reviews and investigations at residential treatment providers, both in-state and out-of-state.
  • Purchasing tablets for field staff to access West Virginia People’s Access to Help (WV PATH), DHHR’s online eligibility system, in the field to help families enroll in and apply for services.
  • Installing wifi in all county offices.

Acting DHHR Secretary Jeffrey Coben described the combined initiatives as “a critical first step in our continued efforts to protect and assist West Virginia’s most vulnerable children, youth and adults.”

Jeffrey Coben

Justice administration officials said the enhancement package amounts to a $10 million infusion to the child protective services, adult protective services and juvenile services workforce in the first 12 months.

The governor said there would be no need for an additional legislative allocation because the money was identified as available through existing resources.

“All these dollars we have in DHHR right now, so this isn’t like a bunch of drunken sailors spending money. These are dollars that we do not have to ask the Legislature for,” Justice said. “We can move forward, and we’ll be able to sustain this for several years to come without asking for additional dollars.”

Coben clarified that some of the recruiting is meant to address an ongoing problem — that the agency has had so many existing vacancies in some areas that it wound up contracting with outside agencies for staffing. That’s been a particular challenge in the long-term care facilities that the state runs.

“Staffing healthcare facilities has been a challenge not just in the state, but across the country,” Coben said. “So while these have been vacancies we have had ot use and redirect those resources to contract to outside agencies to be able to staff key positions in our healthcare facilities.

“With regards to the vacancies within protective services, what we have done today is to provide enhancements and enticements so taht we can reduce those vacancies by recruiting new individuals into the workforce and retaining them in the workforce.”

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