FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Governor Andy Beshear will take steps to recruit and retain social workers in Kentucky.
On Wednesday, Beshear announced that he is giving 4,000 state social workers and family support staff a 10% raise. That raise begins Dec. 16th.
Beshear said the immediate raise is possible because there are 600 social worker positions that are currently unfilled. He says on top of those 600 slots, the state also needs an additional 300 social workers to keep up with the caseload.
"We're in dire shape," said Beshear. "We're in dire shape and it's gotten rougher every single day. We do not have the number of social workers we need for the vulnerable folks that need us."
Social workers in Kentucky recently rallied at the Capitol calling for change. They say some social workers get paid so little, they need government assistance to survive.
"We do need to be compensated because we work very long hours, in difficult environments, and we are there when most people are not," said Shana Turner, a social worker from Lexington. "When most people are sleeping, we are awake."
On top of low pay, the social worker shortage is making workloads overwhelming.
"The calls continue to come and the reports continue to come no matter how many staff we have," said Turner. "There is no backup for a worker. We cannot call a temp service. You have to have a certain skill set that we need - and a lot of time we are without."
So, to try to recruit more social workers, the state is launching a pilot program that guarantees qualified candidates will be hired within seven days of application.
Beshear also proposed a student loan forgiveness program for social workers who are required to continue their educations as part of their careers.
“One of the best retention methods we could have is for every year you serve the commonwealth in this role, we pay off a certain amount of your loans,” Beshear said.