ST. LOUIS – The Missouri Department of Social Services Children’s Division is dealing with huge problems, making it tough to take on all the kids in foster care and making it hard for the workers who have to handle all the cases.

The agency is facing a shortage of workers. Missouri Senator Mary Elizabeth Coleman has been pushing for change for years.

“As of this morning, we had over 13,083 kids in care, that is one of the highest in the country,” Coleman said. “Almost one in 300 kids in the State of Missouri is in foster care. It’s a really terrible problem, and not just because it’s so expensive for the state, but the human cost. We have to be able to make sure we have enough resources so that when we’re investigating all of these referrals, those referrals are going to be handled quickly and simply so that those serious abuse cases can be taken care of.”

Dayna Eckhardt knows the problems firsthand. She used to work as a caseworker for the state. She said it became overwhelming.

“Mostly because I lost hope, I had been reaching out to leaders and legislators, policymakers, and leadership within Children’s Division, and I really got no response,” Eckhardt said.

She said she left the position more than a year ago, but she still keeps in contact with former coworkers.

“I see my friends out there running reports, hotline reports, and they’re getting five and six reports a day,” Eckhardt said. “You can’t do anything for a family when you have that many reports. To break that down one report, you may have six kids, and they may be stretched across the county.”

FOX 2 contacted the Department of Social Services about the issue. They acknowledge that there’s a big problem that needs reform.

A document from the Department of Social Services said the following:

“The Missouri system struggles to perform its essential functions, resulting in too many children going into foster care and remaining there too long. We are unable to recruit and retain frontline workers, and we lack essential personnel.”

The DSS document also said reform was needed and offered some ideas to do that, such as recruiting and retaining workers by increasing salaries, decreasing workload, or providing needed staff to support front-line workers.

Coleman said she agrees with the DSS document. She said the key is putting the ideas into practice to solve problems at the agency and take care of Missouri kids facing trouble.