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Governor's office opts not to fund more social work positions within DOJ, cites lack of data

Delaware Public Media

Gov. John Carney's FY25 budget plan did not include money for additional victim service specialists (VSS) in the Department of Justice (DOJ), but the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is reconsidering.

Attorney General Kathy Jennings is requesting around $645,000 to replace two expiring grant funded positions in the victim compensation assistance program and add six new positions to support the work of the criminal and family divisions.

State Sen. Stephanie Hansen (D-Middletown) was among the committee members to express their disappointment about the lack of recommended funding.

“We have spent a lot of time as legislators on issues regarding sexual abuse and domestic violence, child abuse, neglect – we spend a lot of time with that, and to not see that reflected over in the recommended column was shocking and disappointing," she says.

"One of the things they don't teach you in law school is how to be a victim service specialist or a social worker, and there's good reason for that — because there are individuals who are trained to be social workers and victim service specialists. They are the one's who literally hold the hands of victims of violence and other people in the community who need help to be able to stand back on their feet... so whatever we can do to help you on this, I am committed to doing, because I know the value that these individuals bring," adds State Rep. Krista Griffith (D-Wilmington).

Office of Management and Budget Director Cerron Cade says while he agrees the positions are important, OMB did not receive any year-over-year case growth data to justify funding the new positions.

"I'm completely open to continuing the conversation throughout this process, and if we can get that information that would justify this level of growth, I think everybody here would probably be supportive," Cade says.

Later in the hearing, Chief Deputy Attorney General Alex Mackler explained current social workers receive 16 new cases in a month, and that number is growing.

“They have 275 of those cases in a year. That is a completely and totally unsustainable number for any single social worker to have, so we are in desperate need of more of those social workers," he says.

Mackler adds DOJ currently does not staff any family division social workers below the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, and with the increase in juvenile violence, the department sees a need to fill those gaps.

The Department is also requesting permission to utilize their own $330,900 in appropriated special funds to back pay victim service specialists who did not receive initial pay increases after a series of position reclassifications in 2020.

There was a two-year delay in implementing those raises, and while paralegals and administrators received back pay for the delays, social workers are still waiting.

"We have exhausted every conventional option to deliver them this money — all of our efforts have been rebuffed. It is high time to make that right," Jennings says.

Cade says once the reclassifications were approved, DOJ requested the payments start from the application date, not the approval date, which caused some discrepancies.

He says the back pay made out to the other employees was not approved by OMB and actually violates existing epilogue language.

Cade says instead, the office offered to provide retention bonuses to the affected social workers, which he says DOJ and the Department of Human Resources agreed to, but he adds there still seems to be concern that the retention bonuses do not provide enough compensation.

DOJ is no longer pursuing the payments from the general fund, but they are instead requesting permission to use their own funds to provide the back pay.

"The fraud division has found the necessary money to compensate the VSS workers, that's where the $300,000 comes from, but it requires your consent," Jennings told JFC.

DOJ is also requesting close to $2.5 million to increase senior attorney pay. Currently, deputy attorneys general and supervisors salaries are capped below that of the elected Attorney General, and Jennings hopes to rectify that.

She says this practice is uncommon in most states — highest-level attorneys generally make more than the attorney general.

"It is wrong that professional staff have to wait for a politician to get a raise before they can be fairly compensated," Jennings says.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.
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