FRANKFORT, Ky. — Low pay, too much stress, and not much room for upward movement: officials with the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services say it’s difficult keeping social workers around. 

What You Need To Know

  • Social workers are leaving their job in Kentucky

  • Job turnover has increased dramatically since June, as well as the average caseload

  • Multiple groups asked lawmakers Wednesday to include more funding to raise social worker pay

  • Republicans may try to reorganize the Department for Community Based Services next year

“Our staff has a lot more opportunity to work at a bookstore or as a bartender, making a lot more money than what they make working with us and working with a highly traumatized and demanding caseload system that we have,” DCBS commissioner Marta Miranda-Straub said.

She testified for state lawmakers Wednesday, detailing just how quickly the situation has gone downhill this year: the average caseload for a DCBS social worker has gone up 18% since May. 240 staff members left in the first five months of 2021, and around 400 have left since then.

Other local agencies face issues with low pay as well, like Seven Counties Services.

“I mean, you go into this work for a mission, but you still have to pay your bills and provide your families with the things they need,” said Seven Counties Services CEO Abby Drane.

What these agencies are asking for is simple: more money during the next budget cycle to increase wages.

But some Republicans suggested that reorganizing DCBS may help the agency run more efficiently.

“This is an ongoing problem,” Rep. Ken Fleming (R-Louisville) said. “And I feel like Bill Murray in the (movie) Groundhog Day: I keep waking up and seeing the same old problem without finding a solution.”

Next year, lawmakers will figure out a two-year budget, and this discussion about funding for social workers will likely continue.

In the meantime, reps for the agencies say they’ll do what they can to hire more people.

“You have to be willing to try almost anything and we certainly are,” said Seven Counties Services chief operating officer David Weathersby.

Lawmakers will start the next regular legislative session on Jan. 4 and must have a budget by April 14.