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Home > Advocacy > CWLA 2008 Children's Legislative Agenda > Child Welfare Workforce and Training


CWLA 2008 Children's Legislative Agenda

Child Welfare Workforce and Training

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  • Pass and fund legislation in the Higher Education Reauthorization to provide funding that forgives educational loans to students who become child welfare workers.

  • Pass the legislation, H.R. 2314, to expand access to Title IV-E federal training funds so they support the training of all staff who are working with children and families brought to the child welfare system's attention, including staff of private agencies.

  • Allow Title IV-E federal training funds to be used to provide training related to all activities that help promote safety, permanence, and well-being for children in the child welfare system, and not be restricted to only foster care and adoption activities, as is the case in some regions of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Support proposals that provide incentives, bonuses, and increased funding for states that meet or exceed national child welfare caseload standards and expand the new workforce initiative funds, added to the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program.

  • Support a national child welfare workload study that will assess and evaluate the impact of the workforce on outcomes for children and families in child welfare.


A quality child welfare workforce is essential to promoting good outcomes for children in the child welfare system. No issue has a greater effect on the child welfare system's capacity 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 engage families face-to-face, assess children's safety and well-being through physical visits, monitor progress, see 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. The CWLA Standards of Excellence For Services For Abused and Neglected Children and Their Families stipulate that the ideal caseload for child protection workers should not exceed more than 12 to 15 cases. 1 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, although 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 U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) documented this crisis in the child welfare workforce, finding that the child welfare system is seriously understaffed, undertrained, and undervalued. The GAO found that these workforce problems limit states' ability to meet the goals established in the federally mandated Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSRs), and stated that the analysis of the 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." 2
CFSRs and the resulting state Program Improvement Plans (PIPs) present a clear picture of how workforce issues affect outcomes for children. Through this process, the federal government has found that states need additional workforce supports for making 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.

Loan Forgiveness
As Congress resumes work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, legislative language has been put forward that allows a person who has a degree in social work or a related field and is employed by a public or private child welfare agency to get a part of their college education loan forgiven. For each year of work, $2,000 may be forgiven, up to a maximum of $10,000 over a five-year period. This proposed language should be approved and funding should be provided to implement this reform.

Loan forgiveness is an important step in addressing the shortage of child welfare workers. This provision will provide incentives for more caseworkers to work in the child welfare field and help reduce turnover and caseloads. We believe the building block to improving our child welfare system is a strong child welfare workforce.

Amending Title I-V for Training Funds
On May 15, 2007, Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL) introduced legislation, H.R. 2314, to amend Title I-V to allow private child welfare agencies access to training funds.

Increased training resources and opportunities is one way to improve the child welfare workforce. The major federal child welfare programs include some support for training. Training under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, an entitlement program, is the largest and most important of these. 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. Improvements and clarifications to the Title IV-E training program are necessary to improve child welfare practice and outcomes for children. HHS has given inconsistent directions to states about the use of Title IV-E training funds and, as a result, states differ considerably on how they expend the funds.

Title IV-E training should be extended to additional staff working with children in the child welfare system, including staff of private state-licensed or state-approved child welfare agencies that provide services or care to foster and adopted children and children with guardians.

In addition, the purposes of the Title IV-E training need to be clarified. Current law refers to training foster or adoptive parents and group care staff to increase their ability to support children in foster care and adopted children. Change is needed that will allow eligible training to include any training intended to help states meet federal goals of safety, permanence, and well-being for children.

The current Title IV-E requirement that training expenditures be allocated in proportion to the percent of a state's caseload that is eligible for federal Title IV-E Foster Care assistance should be eliminated. This would allow states to use training funds for staff that are working with all children and families in the child welfare system to help them achieve safety, permanence, and well-being.

Some recent child welfare financing reform proposals would cap and combine these training funds with administration funds and create a block grant that states could use to provide services, cover administrative expenses, and supply training. Under these proposals, however, no funding would be designated for training-forcing workforce training to specifically compete for funding with other vital child welfare needs.

Caseload and Workload Standards Recommendations Findings of the federal CFSRs show that more positive outcomes are reached when child welfare workers have more contact with the children and families they serve. Despite such findings, and the clear connection between caseloads and workloads, service effectiveness, and caseworker retention, only limited efforts have occurred to ensure appropriate caseload sizes and to develop national workload standards.

Child welfare agencies continue to experience high levels of caseworker turnover, resulting in repeated changes of caseworkers for children and families, a lack of continuity in services and planning, and poor outcomes for children and families. As a consequence, reducing caseworker turnover is now viewed as critical to child welfare workforce improvement.

Related to workforce retention is the need to address caseloads (the number of clients for whom caseworkers have responsibility) and workloads (the amount of time required to perform the range of tasks assigned to a caseworker). Appropriate caseloads and workloads are essential for strengthening the child welfare workforce. Although many jurisdictions have conducted caseload and workload assessments through time and travel studies (Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, the state of Arizona, and counties in South Dakota, for example), and some have developed caseload-weighting formulas and caseload allocation systems (New Mexico and Oregon, for example), these efforts are not national in scope.

One element of a national strategy to enhance the child welfare workforce is offering incentives, bonuses, or higher federal reimbursements to child welfare programs that achieve national caseload standards. To reach this goal, states need new resources to ensure appropriate caseload standards, reduce caseworker turnover, and guarantee the appropriate credentials, training, and supervision of the child welfare workforce. CWLA has long recognized national caseload standards based on the type, category, and work required of the caseworker. Many states and local child welfare systems use CWLA standards as the basis for model legislation and policy.

Changes to the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program
As a result of the PSSF (P.L. 109-280) program reauthorization in 2006, a limited amount of funding is now given to states for workforce initiatives. To receive these dollars, each state must provide evidence that each child in foster care is visited at least monthly. States that cannot immediately meet this standard must negotiate and establish benchmarks or goals with HHS. If a state reaches its benchmark, it will receive its share of federal funds targeted to this program. For FY 2006, $40 million was designated for this workforce initiative. States can draw down and carry over these federal dollars for up to three federal fiscal years. In 2008, $5 million is provided to the states and the District of Columbia; in 2009, funding is $10 million; in both 2010 and 2011, funding is $20 million each year. These funds can be used to promote workforce development and retention. When spread across 50 states and with each state guaranteed a minimum of $70,000, the funding will not go far. The greater significance may be that funds are set-aside specifically to address workforce issues in the child welfare field.

Key Facts

  • Between January 1, 2002 and January 1, 2003, the average turnover rate in private agencies was 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 rate in private agencies was 36% for direct service staff and 38% for supervisors. 4

  • Between October 2000 and March 2001, the average turnover rate in public agencies was 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 diligently provide services for families to protect children in the home and prevent removal. 7

  • One-third of the states in the GAO study reported that workforce issues made finalizing adoptions in an appropriate and timely manner difficult for caseworkers. 8

  • Twelve states in the GAO report indicated 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

  • The GAO reported in 2006 that state agencies identified three primary challenges that must be addressed to improve outcomes for children under their supervision: providing an adequate level of services for children and families, recruiting and retaining caseworkers, and finding appropriate homes for children. 13

  • The GAO reported in 2006 that more than half of the states reported dissatisfaction with the average number of cases per worker, administrative responsibilities of caseworkers, and effectiveness of caseworker supervision. 14

  • Child welfare officials in 35 states interviewed by the GAO reported having trouble recruiting and retaining caseworkers because many caseworkers are overwhelmed by large caseloads. 15


  1. Child Welfare League of America. (1999). CWLA standards of excellence for services for abused or neglected children and their families. Washington, DC: Author. back
  2. U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). (2003). HHS could play a greater role in helping child welfare agencies recruit and retain staff. (GAO-03-357). Available online. Washington, DC: Author. back
  3. Drais-Parrillo, A. (2003). 2003 salary study. Washington, DC: CWLA Press. back
  4. Drais-Parrillo, A. (2001). 2001 salary study. Washington, DC: CWLA Press. back
  5. Ibid. back
  6. Ibid. back
  7. GAO, HHS could play a greater role in helping child welfare agencies recruit and retain staffback
  8. Ibid. back
  9. Ibid. back
  10. Child Welfare League of America, Research to Practice Initiative. (2002, September). Child welfare workforce. Research Roundup. Available online. Washington, DC: Author. back
  11. Ibid. back
  12. Ibid. back
  13. U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). (2006). Child welfare: Improving social service program training and technical assistance information would help address long-standing service-level and workforce challenges. (GAO-07-75). Available online. Washington, DC: Author. back
  14. Ibid. back
  15. Ibid. back

CWLA Contact

Tim Briceland-Betts

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