In the News - Stakeholders in Children's Services Discuss Wage Boost to Stem Staffing Shortages

By Tom Mooney for The Providence Journal Published 6:30 p.m. ET Nov. 5, 2021

Gov. Dan McKee has proposed spending $12.5 million of the state’s $1.13billion in federal pandemic recovery money next year to boost wages and prevent workers from leaving the private agencies that treat some of Rhode Island’s most needy children.

The Department of Children, Youth and Families contracts with three dozen different organizations to provide critical services. But a staffing shortage, made all the worse by the pandemic, is forcing those organizations to cut back their services and limit their referrals.

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“It’s distressing when my staff has to say, ‘We’re at capacity, we can’t take another case," Beth Bixby, CEO of Tides Family Services, said Friday at a roundtable discussion her agency hosted on the staffing crisis.

“So what happens to that kid? They are boarded at a hospital, they’re away from their parents, it’s traumatizing, and lots of times DCYF is trying to figure out what to do,” said Bixby. “The kids have nowhere to go.”

McKee’s plan
would pay about 1,500 qualified workers from those various agencies an extra$694.50 a month for 12 months in the hope of keeping them on the job.
But then what?

“The workforce situation is not going to be fixed by June,” said Tanja Kubas-Meyer, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition for Children and Families.

And as much as the temporary wage boost is significant, Kubas-Meyer said, if may be difficult to attract new hires if they know their salaries will actually decrease soon after

11/12/21, 11:34 AM What comes next after one-time pay hike pitched by McKee?
https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/local/2021/11/05/what-comes-next-after-one-time-pay-hike-pitched-mckee/6298140001/ 2/2

“It needs to be extended over time,” she said, and the state needs to reform the rates it pays private providers.

Womazetta Jones, secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, agreed.

“This is a start,” she said, “which is why we need to hear from the community about what additional investment we need.”

The state budget officials told lawmakers last month that the DCYF has seen a 30% (87-bed) decrease in available beds for youth since the pandemic began due to provider caps and site closures.

And the Coalition for Children and Families
reported in August

that its group of providers was experiencing a 31% job vacancy rate overall.

Speaking to the small group of care providers and lawmakers assembled for the roundtable discussion Friday, Bixby said her agency saw two professional staff people leave this week for jobs that paid between $15,000 and $17,000 more a year. Their departure represents "about 30 families that won’t receive service,” she said.

Email Tom Mooney at: tmooney@providencejournal.com or call, 401-277-7359

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