Monday, March 05, 2007

One step in the right direction for social work in KY

Unanimously approved Boni Bill has 100 hires
Vos, Sarah. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 2, 2007, pg. C6.

FRANKFORT -- Kentucky would hire more than 100 social workers and staff, and create visitation centers for foster children and their parents, under a bill unanimously approved by the House of Representatives yesterday.

Named after Boni Frederick, a Henderson social service aide who was killed while supervising a visit between a toddler and his biological mother, the measure aims to improve safety for social workers."We need more front-line social workers," said Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, who sponsored the bill. More social workers would mean smaller caseloads, which would allow social workers to be more effective, Burch said.

The bill moves to the Senate.

As amended on the House floor, the measure gives the Cabinet for Health and Human Services $4.8 million. Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher had asked for more than $18 million to hire more than 300 staff members.

"The actions taken today are a step in the right direction," Fletcher said in a statement.

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Mark Birdwhistell said yesterday's move by the House, which almost doubled the amount of funding that had been provided in earlier versions of the measure, was encouraging. He noted the bill also included many recommendations from a task force that had looked at social worker safety.

"They recognized the components and recommendations and provided some funding to initiate the process," Birdwhistell said.

In addition to providing money for visitation centers and staff, the measure sets up a task force to examine salaries, caseloads and safety needs and make recommendations before the next legislative session. It gives social workers access to criminal background checks as well.

Hank Cecil, of the Kentucky Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said his organization was delighted with yesterday's action in the House, although he wished the legislators had given the measure more money.

"This is not a huge amount of money, when it comes to the overall plan," Cecil said. "But at least this gets things started."

Burch said that more money may be appropriated next year, during a legislative session when legislators write the two-year budget.


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