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story.lead_photo.caption David Wood Photo by News Tribune file photo

The Children's Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services is obligated to live within its means and challenged to ensure the safety of the state's children with fewer resources, Division Director David Wood told employees in a letter earlier this month.

Wood sent out the letter as the division prepared to cut position to align with budget cuts.

Because of budget reductions, the division, which is responsible for the administration of child welfare services in the state, has to cut 96 positions by Aug. 3.

An earlier plan called for losses of 110 position, DSS spokeswoman Rebecca Woelfel said.

Wood was not available for an interview, but Woelfel shared his letter with the News Tribune.

"These decisions were not made lightly, but over the years, other DSS divisions have experienced substantial reductions in workforce while Children's Division has been relatively unaffected from staffing reductions," Wood said in the letter. "All DSS work is important. Every DSS team member has a role in empowering Missourians to live safe, healthy and productive lives."

The staff reductions come from 80 filled positions and 16 vacant positions.

"To reduce the number of impacted staff, the Children's Division plan eliminates vacancies and some positions that perform duties which can be eliminated or distributed to other team members without negatively impacting services provided to children and families," Woelfel said. "The average salary of the revised plan was higher than the original plan (of 110 reductions), which resulted in a lower number of FTE reduced."

Reduced positions include:

Account clerk II (one vacant position).

Administrative office support assistant (one filled position, one vacant).

Children's services program manager (20 filled, three vacant).

Children's services specialist (20 filled, three vacant).

Children's services supervisor (15 filled, two vacant).

Legal counsel (five filled).

Office support assistant (nine filled, one vacant).

Program development specialist (two filled, two vacant).

Social services manager (three filled).

Special assistant professional (one filled).

Senior office support assistant (four filled, three vacant).

"In the last year, we have talked about getting back to basics and putting our focus squarely on the work of keeping kids safe," Wood said in his letter. "As part of this realignment, there have been discussions on how to reduce the layers of administration in the Children's Division organization. In better budget times, DSS would still be asking to make this change, although maybe not as quickly, and using those savings to reinvest in case-carrying team members."

The Children's Division will use some other open positions to provide opportunities for staff whom the reductions affected, he wrote.

About 70 of the 80 affected staff members have been offered open jobs within Children's Division, Woelfel said.

DSS is looking for positions in other divisions for the remaining workers who are losing their jobs, she said.

"My commitment is that we will be transparent, we will listen and answer your questions and we will work with every DSS team member whose position may be impacted by the budget challenges to find another position in DSS or another state agency," Wood said in his letter to employees.

Gov. Mike Parson announced planned budget cuts of $448 million in late June, following revenue reductions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the announcement of the budget cuts, Parson outlined a plan that called for the losses of about 500 positions from the state workforce. Of those, 300 were to be filled positions. Two hundred of the filled positions were to come from DSS.

A workforce reduction plan for the department's Division of Youth Services remains under development, Woelfel said.

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