SPRINGFIELD — Community-based child welfare providers are asking the state for $30.7 million in emergency funding to combat low wages, high employee turnover rates and inadequate resources which have caused some of them to cut programs or close.
Representatives of several of those private providers, which serve more than 80 percent of children and families in the state’s child welfare system, held a news conference Thursday calling on lawmakers to include the money in the fiscal year 2020 budget which could be passed by May 31.
The money would go to the state’s Department of Children and Family Services, which would increase the rates for services contracted through the private providers. The services range from foster home coordination to therapy to group home and residential treatment, and reimbursement rates have remained largely unchanged since 2002.
“That [$30.7 million] is a minimum, an emergency pressure valve,” said Andrea Durbin, CEO of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth, which advocates for many of the state’s community-based providers. “No one is going to think that $30 million is going to solve the problems in the child welfare system. We got here with 17 years of neglect, and it’s going to take us three to four years to turn things around.”
Durbin said employee turnover rates are approaching 50 percent per year for some of the providers, and every worker change delays some services, such as moving a foster child to a permanent home, by as many as six months.
“There’s a tremendous amount of turnover for case managers in child welfare,” said Dan Kotowski, CEO of community-based provider ChildServ. “What that means is a youth in care, … they may see three different case managers in the span of a three-month period.
“Young people are looking for some kind of stability, and they’re not getting it,” he said.
Case managers often have both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but their $35,000-$40,000 average salary is sometimes not enough for the stressful work that requires them to always be on call, Kotowski said. Because much of their certification is through the state, many are attracted to the two-to-three-times-higher salaries and better benefits offered by DCFS.
“We are the number one source of employment for DCFS when they recruit,” Durbin said. “When [DCFS] hires from our workforce, which they often do, they have a person that’s ready to start on day one.”
Kotowski added that while he recognizes the importance of DCFS investigators and “front end” services like the child welfare hotline, support for community-based providers that serve the majority of the state’s 17,000 foster care kids has lagged far behind.
“By funding and investing in [community-based] case managers, the ones who are doing the lion’s share of the work, we’re going to stabilize this situation here, and kids are going to get the best kind of support,” he said.