DES MOINES, Iowa -- The outside agency tasked with reviewing the Iowa Department of Human Services has released its report and on Thursday legislators got to hear how director Jerry Foxhoven plans to address the department's shortcomings.
For an hour and a half, a joint oversight committee listened and asked questions of the director.
“What we really did as DHS was just lay it all on the line and let you take a real clear look at us and tell us what we're doing well and what we're not doing well so we can start formulating a plan” Foxhoven said of their process with the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group.
The report listed several problems it saw with the department. Low staff morale and the feeling of having to do more with less, a data system so out of date that it was "incapable of producing the kind of readily available and easily read reports essential for a 21st century child welfare system” and a worker caseload that greatly exceeds the recommended amount.
Foxhoven says one of the first issues he wanted to tackle after taking the job was finding out how to improve the quality of foster parents. The state outsources the recruitment of foster parents, and Foxhoven says they will be requiring prospective foster parents to meet higher requirements in order to be considered.
Foxhoven also says they're working on a plan for a new data system and ways to give workers more time to work on their caseloads.
“It’s things like 'I need to wait in line for a supervisor to approve a bus pass. I've got a parent calling me all the time saying I need to get to therapy, I need the bus token and I'm waiting for my supervisor to get a bus token, but she's got people lined up so there's eight more phone calls today that I didn't need to have’” said Foxhoven.
While Foxhoven tries to streamline the system, and find ways to cut time-consuming red tape, some lawmakers wonder if just hiring more caseworkers would help the problems. Of course, going that direction would be difficult for a department that had 16 million dollars in budget cuts last year, and one that some lawmakers believe will be facing further slashes this year.
“He's been ‘told this is what you have to work with, so make it work’. He's trying to do that, but my feeling is that children are too important to our state to not address the problem. Ask us for what you need” said Democratic Senator Matt McCoy.
Two other lawmakers at the meeting directly asked Foxhoven if he needed to ask them for increased funding. Foxhoven said even if they threw all the money they wanted at the department, it would largely be ineffective until they figure out how much things like a new data system will cost.
With all that said, there were some positives which came from the report.
The report said except for Polk and Linn counties, DHS employee turnover was far lower than the national average and leads to more experienced case workers statewide. The report also stated that despite low morale, there was hope among employees that the situation can improve under new leadership. A hope that the lawmakers at the oversight meeting also shared with Foxhoven.