Monday, February 26, 2007

$2.5 million is better than nothing; still need to advocate for more staff

Panel restores $2.5 million to aid children, social workers
Yetter, Deborah, Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 23, 2007, pg. B5.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Lawmakers restored some money yesterday to a bill aimed at upgrading the state's child welfare system and improving safety for social workers.

The House Health and Welfare Committee last week stripped about $21million from House Bill 362, named the "Boni Frederick Bill" after the Kentucky social service aide killed on the job in October

That prompted an outcry from social workers and criticism from Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who accused House leaders of "gutting" the bill.

So yesterday, the committee added $2.5 million — enough for some improvements but not enough to hire the 300 additional social service workers the state says it needs.

"It appears to be a first step," said Tom Emberton Jr., undersecretary with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, who said he will seek more funds from lawmakers.

Several social workers who attended yesterday's hearing said they still believe more workers are needed to handle the growing number of cases of child abuse and neglect.

"I do feel a little better," said Katy Mullins, a social worker supervisor from Kenton County. "But I still think we need to advocate for more staff."

The state is seeking about $18million to hire more social workers and aides — funds that the committee stripped from the bill.

Members said House Democratic leaders had directed the change, saying they didn't want to reopen the two-year budget approved last year.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said yesterday that he supported restoring the $2.5million and that it wasn't prompted by last week's criticism.

Nor did he rule out adding more money to hire social workers.

If lawmakers can't add the funds this year, Richards said he would support allocating "significantly more money" next year for hiring more workers and other improvements to the system.

Money added to the bill yesterday would go toward creating secure centers around the state where parents could visit with children removed from homes; upgrading security at social service offices; and providing emergency radio equipment to social workers. The bill now goes to the full House.


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