Kentucky Capitol Building

30 Jan Want A Functional Cabinet? Some General Assembly Required.

The Kentucky General Assembly is now in session. The 2024 Kentucky General Assembly, comprised of the Kentucky Senate and the Kentucky House of Representatives, convened in Frankfort on January 2 and will be in session for 60 days. They will be addressing a wealth of issues, including Kentucky’s budget, criminal policies, postsecondary education, and election rules, just to name a few. House Bill 6 [1], a 251-page document, relates to the budget and how the government allots money to fund its various programs (AKA an “appropriations bill”). We at Helmers + Associates are particularly interested in the appropriations for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS or the Cabinet). 

Specifically, we want you, our clients and community, to be aware of how the proposed appropriations bill fails to address the findings and recommendations made by the CHFS Organizational Structure, Operations, and Administration Task Force (CHFS Task Force). The CHFS Task Force was a legislative task force that investigated the Cabinet in 2022 and made recommendations to the Legislative Research Commission. [2] The Legislative Research Commission is a bipartisan committee created by law that helps the General Assembly draft bills and oversees the state budget.

The Cabinet is Kentucky’s largest executive branch agency, housing 93 agencies [3] that provide invaluable services, including the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS). The DCBS workforce accounts for most of the Cabinet’s employees and approximately 10% of the state’s budget each year. [4] DCBS oversees what is commonly known as CPS (Child Protective Services). If you are now or have ever been involved in a Family Court Neglect or Abuse action, you are probably familiar with CHFS and its workers.

Staffing and Workforce Issues

Cabinet workers are essential to investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect and connecting families to necessary services tailored to their needs. These important social work positions have a history of high turnover rates due to low wages, heavy caseloads, and exposure to traumatic situations at work. For at least a decade Kentucky’s loss of experienced, high-quality social workers, and complete failure to train and retain new workers to replace those we have lost, is a state-wide epidemic. In 2016, the Cabinet lost a third of its workforce, and Jefferson County was labeled as “our biggest crisis area” by a spokesperson for the Cabinet. [5

Current and former employees of the Cabinet have cited high burnout and unreasonably high caseloads. [6] Kentucky law requires reports to the governor and the General Assembly “if caseloads rise above 25 per worker statewide for more than 90 days, the cabinet is required to report that to the governor and the General Assembly.” On average, social workers currently each have between 31 to 35 cases, including past-due cases that need to be closed. In 2021, social workers were given a 10% raise to at least encourage employee retention and new hires, which significantly lowered turnover rates from 2021 to 2022. In 2022, the CHFS Task Force found DCBS had approximately 4,177 employees but needed 4,500. Though the state needs at least 300 DCBS employees, HB 6 proposes funding a whopping 100 new social workers in the next two years. The bill in its current form does not set aside funds to fill existing positions or retain current employees. 

A Fully Funded and Staffed Cabinet Protects Families

As the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy put it in their Preview of the Budget of the Commonwealth (2024-26), 

“Adequate pay and manageable caseloads are not just necessary for the workers but are critical to ensuring children are removed from their homes only when absolutely necessary, family preservation is prioritized, and errors are avoided. Any time a child is removed from their home is a traumatic experience with ripple effects throughout life, and having a well-trained, experienced and fully staffed child welfare system can mitigate that harm.” [7

Our office couldn’t agree more. An investment from the top and adequate appropriations would convey Kentucky’s commitment to its families. The CHFS Task Force affirmed this in its report, finding that workforce challenges for these specific employees “hinder operations” and “services are often neglected.” [8] Anyone who has called the CPS hotline [9] has felt the impact of these vacancies, waiting hours to make a report of suspected abuse or neglect (which is why you can now make non-emergency reports online, linked here and below [10]). The Cabinet’s own 2022-2026 strategic plan identifies its inability to maintain “an adequate number of experienced staff” and “increasing workloads” as weaknesses. [11]

Underpaid, undersupported, and overloaded case workers also lead to fewer children being reunited with their families following resolutions in their Family Court cases. According to data from Kentucky Youth Advocates, only 32% of children exiting foster care were returning to their primary caretaker. [12] Because we often represent parents in these cases, we see the consequences of failing to hire, train, and retain competent and compassionate social workers. Families are often broken up without a proper procedural investigation of allegations. Court cases drag on because workers don’t have time to make referrals to services and follow up on them. The child welfare system in Kentucky has been built around the presumption of having a highly-qualified and well-supported social work base. The legs have been cut out from under that system, and our families are suffering for it. 

As attorneys, we can and should hold the Cabinet and the Commonwealth accountable for its inability to do its part in providing for the welfare of our Kentucky families. If you are involved in a Family Court case with CPS or having trouble with CHFS workers and need representation, you can reach us at (502) 581-0077. We would love to be able to help.

For more information on how the Kentucky legislative process works: and

  1. House Bill 6: ↩︎
  2. CHFS Task Force: ↩︎
  3. The Cabinet: ↩︎
  4. DCBS workforce: ↩︎
  5. Cabinet turnover crisis: ↩︎
  6. See Cabinet turnover crisis, footnote 5 ↩︎
  7. Kentucky Center for Economic Policy: ↩︎
  8. See The Cabinet, footnote 3 ↩︎
  9. DCBS webpage with CPS hotline numbers: ↩︎
  10. CPS Online Report Form: ↩︎
  11. CHFS Strategic Plan: ↩︎
  12. Kentucky Youth Advocates Report: ↩︎