SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown says she wants to hire 185 more child welfare workers at the state Department of Human Services, to the tune of $14.5 million.
That’s in addition to 184 budgeted field positions that remain unfilled.
The governor announced her plan three weeks after state auditors found the state’s child welfare program was chronically understaffed, among other persistent problems.
On any given day, about 7,600 kids are in Oregon’s foster care system.
The secretary of state’s audit found that caseloads are three to four times “higher than what is optimal, contributing to staff burnout, increased turnover and difficulty recruiting new workers.”
Due in part to high turnover, the state’s caseworkers are also fairly inexperienced. About one-third of caseworkers have started within the past 18 months, according to the audit.
Brown wants to hire 75 social workers, 75 case workers, 25 office support staff and 10 managers. The move would require legislative approval.
“I urge our elected representatives to take advantage of this session to make sure that more Oregonian children have access to a brighter future,” Brown said in a statement Thursday.
The boost would go part of the way to what auditors say is a dire shortage of workers. In order to adequately meet the needs of the thousands of kids in its care, the state would need to hire about 769 more field staff, auditors said.
Although the Department of Human Services already has the money to hire 184 field positions — that’s the difference between the number of field positions the department has budgeted for in the biennium and the actual staffing average as reported by state auditors — the governor’s plan would call for 185 separate positions, according to the department.
It’s not yet clear what exactly the agency will do differently to onboard employees expediently, though.
A spokeswoman for the governor said that Brown has been working with Department of Human Services Director Fariborz Pakseresht and Child Welfare Director Marilyn Jones “to understand which changes would bring the most tangible impact most quickly.”
The state allocates about $500 million to the child welfare program every year.
Secretary of State Dennis Richardson said in a written statement Thursday that he was “delighted to see appropriate action taken to immediately address the staffing shortage in our foster care system.”
The audit, released in January, was far from the first time that the child welfare program has been under scrutiny.
Brown commissioned an outside review of child safety in the foster care program amid the fallout from a scandal at a Portland-area foster care provider, Give Us This Day. That review was published in 2016, but auditors found that the agency hadn’t corrected foundational problems identified in that review.
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.