Social worker proposal moves
House and Senate negotiators Wednesday agreed to a bill that would authorize the hiring of four extra social workers to help address a crisis in the child-welfare system on the east side of Hawaii island.
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House and Senate negotiators Wednesday agreed to a bill that would authorize the hiring of four extra social workers to help address a crisis in the child-welfare system on the east side of Hawaii
But the compromise measure removed a proposed cap on the number of abused or neglected children each social worker in the Child Welfare Services’ Hilo office could supervise.
House Bill 2277 originally set a limit of 20 children per social worker and, to be able to meet that, would have appropriated funding to hire eight additional social workers.
The bill’s supporters noted that social workers in the East Hawaii office are supervising as many as 40 to 50 at-risk children, more than twice what a national advocacy group recommends.
The heavy caseloads put abused children at greater risk of harm, advocates say, and the situation is made worse because the workers must spend more time on the road to see clients spread around a district larger than all the other main Hawaiian Islands combined.
Even though the amended bill fell short
of the original proposal, proponents still were pleased.
“I think it’s a great step in the right direction,” said Joseph O’Connell, a Hilo foster parent and service provider who was among those pushing the measure.
The legislation, which was initiated by a group of advocates late last year, now goes to both chambers for floor votes. It is expected to be approved.
Rep. Joy San Buenaventura (D, Pahoa-Kalapana), who drafted the original measure, said the bill’s passage would be unusual because legislation typically takes two to three sessions to pass, especially if it has a sizable funding commitment.
But support for HB 2277 shows that legislators recognize that cases can fall through the cracks when dedicated social workers have to carry heavy caseloads and spend so much time on the road, San Buenaventura said.
“It speaks volumes about how much (legislators) care about our kids who have been failed by the system,” she said.
The East Hawaii office currently has nine case managers who supervise hundreds of at-risk children, according to the Department of Human Services, which oversees CWS. One other case manager position is vacant. The four new social workers would be added to that mix, helping reduce caseloads by roughly five to 10 per worker, according to preliminary calculations by DHS.
Keopu Reelitz, a DHS spokeswoman, said in a written statement that the department already has started working with the Department of Human Resources Development to significantly shorten the time it takes to hire for positions like these. The agency hopes to have the new hiring process in place by June 1.
It also is working with the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the public workers union, to improve retention, according to Reelitz.
“We believe this bill allows us to explore collaborative and new ways to support our staff and, in turn, the children of Hawaii,” she said.
If HB 2277 is approved and signed by Gov. David Ige, DHS would be required to provide an update about its East Hawaii caseloads to the Legislature during its next session.