JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – While the state is seeing a reduction in the number of children in Missouri’s foster care system, the Children’s Division continues to face major staffing challenges.
Currently, there are more than 14,300 child abuse and neglect cases open in Missouri. The Kansas City and St. Louis regions make up about 75% of those cases. The Department of Social Services told lawmakers last week that the way to eliminate that backlog is to hire more investigators.
“You hire someone in the door, they are simply not going to be able to take the caseload on Monday morning from someone that left on Friday afternoon,” Department of Social Services Director Robert Knodell said.
A lack of workers is creating chaos for a state agency. In the St. Louis area, there are 6,125 child abuse and neglect cases that have been open for more than 45 days, compared to 3,590 in the Kansas City region.
“It doesn’t seem like we have enough people to do this task,” DSS Children’s Division Director Darrell Missey told representatives earlier this month. “I think we need to do some calculations because I think we will continually have these challenges so long as this entity is this size trying to deal with a job that is the size of the one that it has been tasked with.”
Parson appointed Missey, a former family court judge in Jefferson County, to head the Children’s Division in January 2022. A consistent goal of Missey’s is to reduce the number of kids in state custody by expanding resources to help families stay together.
According to DSS, there are currently 14,387 open child abuse and neglect cases across the state. On average, it takes roughly 54 days to close a case, but currently there are more than 10,100 cases that have been open for more than 45 days. The oldest report is more than 843 days old. Here is the data broken down by regions:
- 6,712 current open reports
- 6,125 cases that have been open for 45 days or more
- Average number of days to close a report is 134
- The oldest report is 843 days old.
- 4,232 current open reports
- 3,590 cases that have been open for 45 days or more
- Average number of days to close a report is 53
- The oldest report is 745 days old
- Northeast Missouri: 1,005 current open reports
- 240 cases that have been open for 45 days or more
- Average number of days to close a report is 49
- The oldest report is 315 days old
- 601 current open reports
- 51 cases that have been open for 45 days or more
- Average number of days to close a report is 22
- The oldest report is 156 days old
- 900 current open reports
- 84 cases that have been open for 45 days or more
- Average number of days to close a report is 25
- The oldest report is 193 days old
- 937 current open reports
- 70 cases that have been open for 45 days or more
- Average number of days to close a report is 25
- The oldest report is 197 days old
With high numbers of vacancy and turnover in the St. Louis region, investigators from other parts of the state are pitching in to help reduce the backlog of cases.
“What we’re doing is sort of concentrated the St. Louis folks closer into the center of the St. Louis region and having Jefferson County and St. Charles County pick up the slack outside,” Missey said. “Then, we’re having other counties come in and take up the slack for them.”
Funding increase in the state’s budget for the Children’s Division is being used for training and management consultants. Knodell said overdue reports are reducing.
“We’re very hopeful that the challenges that are unique to the St. Louis region that we will be able to address, and I hope to have a much better story to tell you by January,” Knodell said.
The good news, for the first time in years, the number of kids in Missouri’s foster care system dipped below 13,000 but finding that data publicly isn’t easy which is why lawmakers are asking for more regularly updated public data.
“If those are people that aged out, and not reunified that’s not necessarily better,” Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, said. “It would be interesting to see where the data leads us.”
Even the director of the Children’s Division agrees, more transparency is needed.
“When people ask me these questions, I have to dig for them,” Missey said. “I have to say, ‘okay research people, go find me answers to those questions.’ Would be really nice if we could just look at it and the department is in the process of making all that happen.”
Missey also told committee members that during 2022, there were 6,349 kids that left state care. Of those, 3,119 went home, 463 achieved independence, which means they aged out, 172 went to guardianship, 1,577 were adopted and 59 went to other agencies which means they went to the Division of Youth Services, the Department of Corrections, or to another agency in another state.
“What I’m seeing here is a direct leadership effort by the department to see if something better can happen,” Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, said. “I’m personally hearing from people on the ground who are saying that it is better, that things are going better.”
Kelly, the chairman of the Children and Families Committee, told Missey and Knodell, she appreciated them explaining the problems within the division to representatives. She said it’s the first time since she was elected seven years ago that she’s heard such specific numbers for a solution.
Knodell said the Children’s Division holds a hiring fair every Tuesday at its office on Page Avenue in St. Louis County from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
This year, the General Assembly added about $30 million to help boost salaries throughout the agency.