The Florida Coalition for Children and Florida TaxWatch asked the Legislature during a news conference Monday to add an additional $40 million into its foster care system to halt a case manager shortage.
The state funds several private community organizations to place foster children into homes, a process monitored by case workers with those organizations. About 2,000 case managers work in the state, but the industry currently has 600 vacant positions, said Coalition President and CEO Kurt Kelly.
He said the shortage is being driven by Florida having lower average case manager salaries than other states and similar fields. A starting case manager makes about $37,064 in Florida, while the average starting salary in seven comparable states is $48,958. The average salary overall is $39,646, well below the $57,600 average salary for teachers, police officers and social workers.
Kelly said that level of pay is not high enough for a job that is high-stress and remained vital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s interesting that we’re comparing folks who have to deal with all of this trauma and crisis, have a bachelor’s degree, have all the training and experience, and are working all these hours. And they’re competing with somebody who says, ‘Would you like fries with that, sir?’” Kelly said.
John Cooper, CEO of Kids Central Inc. — one of the community organizations that employs case managers — said rising inflation costs have been difficult on his employees. Since organizations like his are funded through the state, they do not have the resources to raise salaries unless their funding is increased, he said.
“We depend on our government to be able to fund us and compensate our case managers that are at a fair level to be able to help them stay in the field,” he said. “When case managers leave, caseloads go up and children are not served as well.”
Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, said his experience growing up in a household where his parents fostered children helps him understand how important maintaining the state’s foster program is.
“Treating people with respect and dignity is what America is all about. Part of the American dream is to help people lift themselves up. No handout, helping them get back on track,” Calabro said. “I know firsthand how critically valuable what you (case managers) do is all about.”
Aside from his personal connection, Calabro also said increasing the funding makes fiscal sense. Before the pandemic, the turnover rate in the industry was 37%. He said increasing pay to lower that metric could recoup some of the cost of the investment.
“High case manager turnover rates are very costly to Florida taxpayers,” Calabro said. “Every 10% reduction in case management turnover saves the state and our taxpayers between $3 million and $22 million annually.”
Kelly said both organizations will be speaking with lawmakers to push for the funding.
“We’ve never come and asked for this amount of money for this workforce. It is now at that point in time. We have to do that this year,” he said.