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Kansas Looks To Fill Child Protection Jobs With Looser Requirements, Higher Staff Salaries

Madeline Fox
Kansas News Service

The Kansas Department for Children and Families is opening up child protection services jobs to people who aren’t licensed social workers.

Child protection workers investigate reports of possible child abuse or neglect and make recommendations about whether or not children should be removed from their homes.

A third of child protection positions are vacant, and some have been for more than a year, according to DCF. Loosening the prerequisites, said DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel, will help fill in the gaps.

“We have been advertising and advertising positions for quite some time now, and we can’t get many of those positions filled,” Meier-Hummel said Monday in announcing the hiring policy change. Considering unlicensed job candidates, she said, is a must, “in order to have an adequate workforce.”

DCF will still require a bachelor’s degree for its child protection workers. And Meier-Hummel stressed that her agency will extensively train non-licensed workers, and intends to place them in offices with licensed supervisors and other licensed social workers.

Becky Fast, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers’ Kansas chapter, doesn’t think opening the child protection jobs up to unlicensed workers will solve the underlying issues that are keeping the positions unfilled.

“Worker turnover, recruitment, retention will not be solved unless there are higher salaries, adequate training, and lower caseloads,” Fast said.

Meier-Hummel said hiring college graduates for these child protection jobs, regardless of whether they have a license in social work, puts Kansas in line with many other states across the country that don’t require licenses for all child protection roles.

DCF is also planning pay raises. The agency is asking the state for an additional $5.4 million over three years to increase current staff salaries by 5 percent, to attract and retain the licensed workers it currently has.

“In order to make sure we can move to the unlicensed staff, we want to make sure we can take care of our current licensed staff,” Meier-Hummel said.

But the bulk of the new budget request announced Monday — $22 million — would go toward updating the old IT systems DCF uses to track children and cases.

That follows a request in January for a$16.5 million budget enhancement for this year and next to address other nagging problems, including providing a place for children awaiting placement to sleep, locating kids missing from their foster homes, and family preservation.

Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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