DHS: "More Social Workers Needed"

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The Department of Human Services' request for an extra $16 million in state money is fueled, in part, by the agency's desire to fill vacant positions, especially for social workers.

The general fund request for next year is 22 percent higher than what the agency is receiving in the current budget year that started July 1.

DHS executive director Don Taylor said the agency has 254 filled social worker positions and 28 vacancies. The whole agency has 3,148 workers and 335 vacant jobs.

Taylor said he believes the difficulty in hiring more social workers is tied to the pay and heavy caseload. Mississippi pays an average of $30,000 to $32,000 annually, which DHS officials say is in line with surrounding states.

Taylor told members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on Thursday that, so far, the agency has not "lost a child'' due to the negligence of social workers, but "we are at great risk.''

Taylor said the goal is an average of 40 cases per social worker. He didn't know the current average caseload. He said the highest caseload is in Copiah County, where the average social worker handles 129 cases.

The agency's overall $324 million budget increase includes general funds and special funds.