Lawmakers spent Tuesday afternoon parsing the $1.25 million 2009 budget request from the state's child welfare division.

The state Division of Child and Family Services is requesting 24 new child abuse caseworkers, money for seven new vehicles for those caseworkers and for wage improvement to help reduce caseworker turnover in the division. Its nearly 17 percent annual employee turnover rate is more than 4 percent higher than any other state agency.

DCFS administrators told members of the Joint Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee that they also want $182,000 to open a third family support center in the West Valley area. The two shelters in Midvale and Sugarhouse saw 2,300 children in 2007.

The shelter requests as well as the budget requests, in general, are being driven — and driven up — by the rampant use of methamphetamine, primarily by young, single mothers.

Inherent domestic violence in those situations and the resulting emotional and physical scars in children from those enviornments make services to children more critical and more expensive, administrators said.

"Just as the serious nature and disarray of families rises, the department has to move toward more crisis services and more court-ordered action," DCFS director Duane Betournay told committee members.

DCFS data show that the highest concentration of substantiated child abuse cases occur in West Valley, Taylorsville and Kearns. There were 1,510 reported incidents in those communities, and they account for 31 percent of all abuse victims in the Salt Lake Valley.

This is the "epicenter" of abuse and need for services but there are no protective or crisis center services in the one place in the valley where the risk of child is by far the highest of anywhere in the state, administrators said.

The legislative fiscal analyst's office is recommending 14 new caseworkers and is not recommending the additional the funding for the support centers.

Despite the recommendation, committee members indicated lawmakers might be inclined to underwrite the shelther increase anyway.

Sen. Pete Knudsen, R-Brigham City, said residents of rural communities like to believe they live in heaven, but that is clearly not the case; these services are needed statewide.

$182,000 to lawmakers, although they can can approve the request.

E-mail: [email protected]