Lawmakers advance pay raise for state foster care workers


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia lawmakers are seeking pay raises for workers in the state’s foster care system.

The House of Delegates passed a invoice On Wednesday, that would give raises of at least 15% to all social workers and other staff who work directly with families and children. The increase would be on top of the 5% increase for state employees pushed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice.

Republican Del. Jonathan Pinson said the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has a statewide vacancy rate of 30%. The vacancy rate in Jackson and Mason counties was over 50% recently, he said.

“DHHR employees have extremely difficult work that they do for very meager or modest pay,” said Pinson, a sponsor of the bill.

Pinson said lawmakers must take action to slow the rate of turnover in the state of West Virginia.

“I think this pay raise is a step in the right direction,” he said.

In addition to offering salary increases, House Bill 4344 requires that, by the end of this year, the state contract with an independent expert to assess the admissions process of the foster care system. and make recommendations. It also requires the state to create a public database of child protection statistics.

Democratic Congresswoman Lisa Zukoff said the bill’s recommendations were developed after a year of studying the foster care system in West Virginia and other states.

“We’ve heard horror stories,” she said. “This is just the tip of what we can do to help our system be better.”

There are more than 7,000 children in West Virginia’s foster care system. The state has consistently ranked among those with the highest number of foster children per capita.

One September 2021 investigation by Mountain State Spotlight and the GroundTruth Project found a pattern of abuse and neglect of foster children in out-of-state residential facilities. In several cases, the investigation revealed that the Ministry of Health and Human Resources had continued or renewed contracts with the establishments despite its own inspection reports revealing abuses.

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