The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) makes a positive difference for nearly one third of all Iowans by helping them achieve healthy, safe and self-sufficient lives. We do this through a variety of programs and services which truly have an impact on the lives of Iowans. As the director, I have a number of priorities for the Department — more that we could ever expect to have funded or implemented in any one year. However, this is looking like it will be a great year for DHS and those we serve.
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed budget adds millions of dollars to increase social workers in the field to reduce caseloads, adds funds for critical child welfare services including substantial funding over the next two years to create a new child welfare information system and funds technology improvements throughout the Department.
This budget adds 83 additional full time employees to our field operations, many of whom are front-line staff who investigate abuse and work with families once there is substantiated abuse. This, along with the investments in technology, will allow our social workers to do the work they’ve been trained to do. They will spend less time on clerical work and more time on keeping kids safe.
The governor’s budget recommends additional funding for mental health services for adults, and funding to eliminate the waitlist for the children’s mental health waiver. She will be proposing legislation to establish a children’s mental health system in Iowa based on the recommendations of the Children’s Board.
With a strong economy and low unemployment, it’s challenging to find and keep mental health professionals. To address this, her budget proposes to fund four additional psychiatric residencies at the University of Iowa for doctors who will practice in rural communities. It also includes additional money to train nurse practitioners and physician assistants in mental health. This will help us develop the best mental health system in the country, for both adults and children.
While we know that most people experiencing mental illness are best served in their communities, some Iowans still require care in a facility. DHS facilities serve people with complex needs and extremely challenging behaviors. The Department’s goal is always to provide for the safety and well-being of those we serve, as well as the safety and well-being of our staff. The governor’s recommended budget for our facilities will ensure we are able to do just that.
The governor recommended additional funding because she knows it is needed and knows that DHS is committed to doing our very best to serve those Iowans who rely on services. If the Legislature provides the funding proposed by the Governor, we know that we need to demonstrate that this additional revenue will truly make a difference to the people we serve.
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The governor’s support is a compliment to the hard work done every day by all of the members of our DHS family. I applaud the governor for recognizing our work and supporting us in making significant improvements to our operations.
• Jerry Foxhoven is the director of the Iowa Department of Human Services.