We see indications that the new acting director of the Missouri Department of Social Services will make some needed changes to the troubled department.

But we also believe the agency faces serious challenges that he alone won’t be able to fix.

Robert Knodell, the new Social Services acting director, recently spoke to the Joint Committee of Child Abuse and Neglect.

In a report published by the Missouri Independent, Knodell pledged to work to address the agency’s challenges.

The department’s Children’s Division, according to a federal watchdog report, missed opportunities to prevent foster kids from going missing, repeatedly failed to report to authorities kids’ absence and did little to prevent them from going missing again when found.

Lawmakers have blasted the department in the wake of the report.

Fortunately, Knodell is looking to make some much-needed changes. One is a comprehensive upgrade to its Family and Children Electronic System. He said it’s long overdue.

“We believe that we may have one-time resources to be able to fund an upgrade to that system that would greatly reduce the workload,” that case workers must devote to paperwork, Knodell said in the Missouri Independent report.

Knodell is Gov. Mike Parson’s former deputy chief of staff. Most recently, he served as the acting director of the state health department.

He’s undergoing a 90-day evaluation of the department, including traveling across the state to listen to frontline workers’ concerns.

Knodell may need help for an ongoing problem the department has faced for years: low morale and high turnover among case workers.

The department has hired the consulting firm Accenture to do a “top to bottom” review on case ratios, staffing challenges and shortages within the department.

We suspect the report will include recommendations for pay raises.

“I have to say, I don’t believe too many more things would boost the morale of your employees than a pay raise,” Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, said in the story.

The Missouri legislature earlier this year included 3% pay raises for Children’s Division case workers, but Parson vetoed the funding.

We hope the legislature tries again next year and is able to convince the governor of the need for the funding.

This was first published by the Jefferson City News Tribune and is reprinted with permission.

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