Barbara Howard: It is a tiny line-item in the state budget, but judges rely on reports from juvenile court investigators to decide whether a child stays in foster care or is sent back home. It has been more than 30 years since these investigators last got a raise, and given the rigorous degree requirements, many have left for more lucrative work.

Now, a juvenile court investigator is saying 'no more,' and is refusing to take on new cases. And other investigators are speaking up, too. One of them is Mary Pat LeBlanc. She is paid $30 an hour. She works out of Worcester County, which last year saw more children go into foster care than any other county in Massachusetts.

Thank you for talking with us, Mary Pat.

LeBlanc: My pleasure.

Howard: Last fiscal year, your county, Worcester, saw more than 600 children removed from their homes. Talk about the staffing in your office to handle those cases.

LeBlanc: It started at 35, it's down to 11. People have come off for a variety of reasons. I can't speak why everybody has, I just know why some people have. And that has to do with the caseload and the pay.

Howard: That pay - it's $30 an hour, it's been unchanged since 1987. How do you get by?

LeBlanc: I have a husband that works too. I also had another part time job to help support the family, put kids through college.

Howard: So your colleague, Christina Gagné, she has notified the juvenile courts that she will no longer accept new cases to investigate. She told The Boston Globe that about 40 investigators statewide are joining her. Are you one of them?

LeBlanc: No, I am not. And the reason is, I feel that if I stop taking cases and turn them back in, the judge is going to need to reassign this to somebody else, and it's going to prolong helping the family move forward.

Howard: What exactly are you pushing for?

LeBlanc: Ten dollars would be fine for now. It would be nicer if it were more.

Howard: So you're talking about from $30 an hour to $40?

LeBlanc: That's a good step.

Howard: How hard is it to get mobilized to push for this raise on Beacon Hill, seeing as though you're so scattered.

LeBlanc: It's been hard.

Howard: Have you felt like you're being heard?

LeBlanc: Now more so than in the past few years.

Howard: What is your day like?

LeBlanc: Right now, I have 14, 15 cases. A lot of phone work and a lot of times, a lot of driving around. You know, this week I've been out in Arlington, I was in Greenfield. I have appointments in Methuen and Peabody. Because that's just where children are placed.

Howard: Even though you're in Worcester County?

LeBlanc: Yep.

Howard: Do you get reimbursed for all that travel?

LeBlanc: No, we do not.

Howard: What other expenses do you have that you're not reimbursed for?

LeBlanc: Well, my cell phone. When we generate a report, we have to have at least five reports filed with the court, and the original. So all the copy and expenses come out of our pocket.

Howard: How do you make any money?

LeBlanc: I don't know. I don't know.

Howard: So why do you stick with this?

LeBlanc: I like it. I like the children that I get to meet and hope for.

My heart hurts sometimes for some of these kids. The first time I walked into a NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] and saw a baby going through withdrawal, I just sat there and cried. I've been doing this for, you know, 16 years now. And I've always said to my husband and my family, when I stop caring is when I stop doing the work. And I haven't stopped caring yet.

Howard: Thank you so much for talking with us, Mary Pat.

LeBlanc: Thank you for calling.

Howard: That's Mary Pat LeBlanc. She and other juvenile court investigators are pushing for their first raise in over 30 years. WGBH News reached out to State Senator Karen Spilka, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee to ask whether a raise will be included in the Senate's version of next fiscal year's budget. A spokesperson for Spilka says details of the budget are not being made public until its release tomorrow morning.