Department of Health and Human Services to Deliver Recruitment and Retention Payments to Child Welfare Staff This Month

Department also unveils more details about plan from Governor’s State of the State to improve child safety, announcing that the forthcoming supplemental budget will include nearly $7 million in initiatives to strengthen child welfare system

AUGUSTA— The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced today that this month it will deliver the recruitment and retention payments to child welfare staff that Governor Janet Mills announced in the first part of her 2024 State of the State Address.

Eligible child welfare staff who have been employed since January 1, 2024 will receive the first of these payments on February 21, 2024. The three one-time, lump sum payments of $1,000 are aimed to incentivize prospective employees to work for and current employees to continue to work for the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) Child Welfare Division between January and December 2024. The first two payments are funded by an estimated $2 million in salary savings from existing OCFS personnel vacancies in this fiscal year, with the third assuming availability of appropriations in state fiscal year 2025.

The Department also unveiled additional details today about the Governor’s plan from her State of the State Address to improve the child welfare system by addressing caseloads and improving health and safety outcomes. Her forthcoming supplemental budget will propose $6.8 million ($5 million in General Fund) for staff support for child welfare workers and services for children in care.

These steps complement the actions DHHS has taken and planned, in consultation with the Legislature, to improve the health and safety of all children.

“These payments to child welfare staff and the proposals in the supplemental budget reflect the Governor’s focus on strengthening the child welfare workforce and improving services for children and families,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “We look forward to working with the Legislature on its ideas for supporting safety and preventing child abuse and neglect in the first place.”

The Governor will propose the $6.8 million in her supplemental budget to:

  • Support the health of children in state care: $1.3 million ($747,000 in General Funds) would support services for children in state custody. Specifically, the budget will propose funding for room and board, clothing, activities, and respite to support the full implementation of the Treatment Foster Care Oregon (TFC-O) program, a team approach to caring for youth with high behavioral health needs that supports they and their parents/caregivers in successfully living in a family setting. In addition, it proposes funding for a new comprehensive foster child assessment service that provides timely, comprehensive evaluations for youth entering foster care that aligns with the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics Standards. Furthermore, it would add a position to help coordinate high-fidelity wrap-around services which will help keep children and youth out of emergency departments.
  • Add Positions to Support Child Welfare Caseworkers: The Governor announced in part one of her State of the State Address that she would propose creating targeted positions – such as trainers and legal aides – through her supplemental budget to expand team support for caseworkers so they can focus their time and energy on engagement with children and families, on follow-up for services and investigations, and on making sound decisions regarding child safety. This includes eight onboarding and training staff to provide intense mentoring to new staff in addition to what is already offered by their supervisors. The supplemental budget also will add three more legal aides so all eight District Offices have onsite support for their caseworkers in managing the legal aspects of a child welfare case, such as preparing for trials and tracking court orders. And to better support the high workload in the Lewiston Office, the supplemental budget proposes a new Assistant Program Administrator, balancing out the workload in this Office and bringing it into alignment with other OCFS Districts. Altogether, the budget would invest $1.4 million ($1.1 million General Fund) in these positions.
  • Initiate Reclassification of Child Welfare Positions: Recognizing that to fill these new positions, they must be paid appropriately, the Governor announced that her Administration will initiate a reclassification of child welfare caseworkers and supervisors to ensure that the compensation properly reflects the difficulty and complexity of the work over the long run. The supplemental budget will include a request for funding of $4 million ($3.1 million General Fund) to support this reclassification.

These actions to support child welfare staff are expected to reduce the 74 caseworker vacancies as of January 26, 2024, and help give teams lead by caseworkers the time and expertise for investigations, reunification, and support for children and families. They add to the stipend increase for child welfare workers from $5 per hour to $7.50 per hour that became effective this month, the pay increase for child welfare case aides of 10 percent that was effective in October, and the overall 24 percent pay increase for State workers since 2019.

Also in her State of the State Address, the Governor called for the Legislature to pass a resolve sponsored by Senator Lisa Keim directing Maine DHHS to create a pilot program to recruit and retain more case aides, with a public campaign aimed at retirees and other people who are not currently in Maine’s workforce. OCFS currently has 48 positions for case aides, who support caseworkers with child visitation, transportation, and other administrative duties. This pilot would offer immediate help as well as provide valuable lessons on recruitment for the future. If passed by the Legislature, the Governor has said she will sign the bill.

This work is part of the Mills Administration’s continuing efforts to improve the child welfare system. Since 2019, Maine DHHS has increased caseworker positions by 27 percent, increased resource or foster parents by 22 percent, and implemented changes to bring information systems and tools into compliance with Federal law. The Department continues to fully implement a safety science model to improve child welfare practices and welcomes all ideas that can help keep Maine children safe and families strong.