Funding bump restored for Missouri’s child welfare agency

Missouri’s child welfare system is set to receive roughly $5.1 million in additional funding to attempt to address issues of overwhelming caseloads and high staff turnover.

The funding for the state’s Children’s Division is designed to help recruit, train and retain employees; upgrade computer systems; and provide pay increases for staff. Gov. Jay Nixon originally asked for $6 million in additional funding. That was pared down in the Missouri House and nearly eliminated in the Missouri Senate.

During a Tuesday meeting of the conference committee working out differences between the House and Senate budgets, lawmakers agreed to restore most of the funding. The only thing that was left out was about $800,000 for a student loan forgiveness program for staff.

“This is a tremendous step forward and great news for the kids in our state,” said Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, a Kansas City Democrat who sat on the conference committee.

In stories last year, The Star detailed how the Jackson County Children’s Division went from a model for the rest of the state several years ago to a troubled system fled by dozens of veteran workers and investigators.

Caseloads skyrocketed to two or three times the national standard. Inexperienced workers showed up at court unprepared. In some cases, that extended a child’s stay in state care. Other regional offices in the state reported similar experiences with turnover and high caseloads.

Many feared the system was faltering, despite a massive overhaul a decade ago after a young boy died in a southwest Missouri foster home.