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Home > Advocacy > CWLA 2005 Children's Legislative Agenda > Child Welfare Workforce and Training


CWLA 2005 Children's Legislative Agenda

Child Welfare Workforce and Training


  • Maintain the federal commitment to provide guaranteed support for training child welfare workers through the Title IV-E training program. Expand access to these federal training funds so they would support the training of private agency staff, related child-serving agency workers, and court staff working with any children in the child welfare system. Allow these funds also to be used for training on all subjects relevant to achieving positive outcomes for children. These improvements must be part of any comprehensive child welfare financing reform Congress considers in 2005.

  • Pass legislation that would offer additional federal resources to state and private child welfare agencies to improve the quality of services by increasing workforce capacity.

  • Pass legislation to forgive education loans to students who become child welfare workers.


A quality child welfare workforce is essential to ensure good outcomes for children in the child welfare system. No issue has a greater effect on the capacity of the child welfare system to serve at-risk and vulnerable children and families than the shortage of a competent, stable workforce.

This shortage affects agencies in every service field, including foster care, adoption, child protective services, child and youth care, social work, and support and supervision. The timely review of child abuse complaints, the monitoring and case management of children in foster care, the recruitment of qualified adoptive and foster families, and the management and updating of a modern, effective data collection system all depend on a fully staffed and qualified child welfare workforce.

Child welfare work is labor intensive. Workers must be able to engage families through face-to-face contact, assess children's safety and well-being through physical visits, monitor progress, ensure that families receive essential services and supports, help with problems that develop, and fulfill data collection and reporting requirements.

A comprehensive child welfare system cannot be maintained if the foundation of the workforce is crumbling. Workers frequently have caseloads that are two, three, or even four times what good practice demands. The result is little time for training new hires and no time for ongoing training. And supervision, though necessary, is often limited. These factors and more, including concerns about worker safety, create a workplace with high turnover and limited appeal when recruiting.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) documented this crisis in the child welfare workforce in 2003, finding the child welfare system is seriously understaffed, undertrained, and undervalued. GAO found that workforce problems limit states' ability to meet the goals established in the mandated federal Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSRs). GAO said, "Our analysis of the 27 available CFSRs corroborates caseworkers' experiences showing that staff shortages, high caseloads, and worker turnover were factors impeding progress toward the achievement of federal safety and permanency outcomes." 1
CFSRs and the resulting state Program Improvement Plans (PIPs) present a clear picture of how workforce issues affect outcomes for children. The federal government has found through this process that states need additional workforce supports to make the improvements necessary to meet the needs of children and families. Most PIPs submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have addressed states' needs to improve workforce training, reduce caseloads, improve management, and provide better supervision.

Results of the 2001 and 2002 CFSRs released by HHS in 2004 demonstrated a significant relationship between caseworker visits and improved outcomes for children: When caseworkers were able to visit frequently with children in the child welfare system and their families, children were reunified with their families or placed into other permanent living arrangements in a more timely manner. Caseworker visits also were linked with
  • providing services to protect children in the home, thus preventing removal;
  • managing the risk of harm to children;
  • establishing permanency goals for children;
  • achieving reunification, guardianship, and permanent placement with relatives;
  • preserving sibling connections while in foster care;
  • maintaining children's relationships with their parents;
  • successfully assessing needs and providing services to children and families;
  • involving children and parents in case planning; and
  • meeting children's educational, physical, and mental health needs.
One way to improve the child welfare workforce is through increased training resources and opportunities. The major federal child welfare programs include training supports; training under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act is the largest and most important of these. An entitlement program, Title IV-E Training allows states to claim a 75% federal match for allowable training of state and local agency staff, and current and prospective foster and adoptive parents. Some child welfare financing reform proposals would cap and combine these training funds into a block grant that states could use to provide services, cover administrative expenses, and supply training. Under these proposals, however, no funding would be guaranteed for training.

Some states have experienced significant problems in accessing and using Title IV-E training funds to support appropriate, needed training for staff in state-approved private agencies that meet federal eligibility criteria as child-serving institutions. This is a particular concern as states increasingly contract with private agencies to provide quality child welfare services and, ultimately, to improve outcomes for children and families in their care.
HHS defines which training activities and entities qualify for Title IV-E training reimbursement. In 1996, HHS requested public comment "concerning the implementation and management of child welfare training," but HHS still has not issued any new guidance. 2 The continued lack of clarification and inconsistency in guidance to the states has forced public and private agencies to cobble together strategies to support needed training.

In 2003, Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced the Child Protection Services Workforce Improvement Act as a step toward improving the child welfare workforce. The legislation sought to provide $100 million annually for grants to state child welfare agencies and tribal governments to improve working conditions, including increasing wages, hiring more staff, and improving the education and training of workers and supervisors. The bill also would have authorized a five-year, $10 million annual demonstration program to forgive school loans for students who become child welfare workers. Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) introduced legislation that included loan forgiveness as a way to encourage and expand the child welfare workforce.

Key Facts

  • Between January 1, 2002, and January 1, 2003, average turnover rates in private agencies were 45% for casework and case management positions, 57% for residential and youth care positions, and 44% for supervisors. 3

  • Between October 2000 and March 2001, the average turnover rates in private agencies were 36% for direct service staff and 38% for supervisors. 4

  • Between October 2000 and March 2001, the average turnover rates in public agencies were 20% for direct service staff and 8% for supervisors. 5

  • Between October 2000 and March 2001, private nonprofit agencies reported an average supervisory turnover rate of 38%, compared with 8% for public agencies. 6

  • In a 2003 GAO study, one-third of the 27 states reviewed cited workforce issues as a barrier to caseworkers' ability to maintain diligent efforts to provide services to families to protect children in the home and prevent removal. 7

  • One-third of the states reported that workforce issues made it difficult for caseworkers to finalize adoptions with appropriate and timely efforts. 8

  • Twelve states reported they had problems with their caseworkers adequately monitoring safety and well-being through frequent visits with children, focusing on case planning, service delivery, and reaching goals for the family. 9

  • Social work education, supportive supervision, and job flexibility are associated with better work performance and higher retention rates. 10

  • Less than one-third of staff employed in public child welfare agencies have a formal social work education. 11

  • The poor image of child welfare agencies has an adverse effect on morale and retention of qualified employees. 12


  1. U.S. General Accounting Office. (2003). HHS could play a greater role in helping child welfare agencies recruit and retain staff (GAO-03-357). Retrieved online, January 5, 2005. Washington, DC: Author.
  2. Request for Public Comments Concerning the Implementation and Management of Child Welfare Training for Which Federal Financial Participation Is Available Under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, 61 Fed. Reg. 43250 (August 21, 1996).
  3. Drais-Parrillo, A. (2003). 2003 salary study. Washington, DC: CWLA Press.
  4. Drais-Parrillo, A. (2001). 2001 salary study. Washington, DC: CWLA Press.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. GAO. HHS could play a greater role.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Child Welfare League of America, Research to Practice Initiative. (2002, September). Child welfare workforce. Research Roundup. Available online.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.

CWLA Contact

John Sciamanna

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