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Home > Consultation and Training > Trieschman Center for Consultation & Training > Workforce Development Initiative


2001 Finding Better Ways Conference Presentation Recap

Competitive Strategies in Public Child Welfare: Attracting and Keeping Our Best Workers

Uma Ahluwalia
Office of the Governor

Thomas A. Burgess and Craig G. Adams
Maryland Department of Human Resources

Over the past three years, Maryland has developed a partnership to assertively address the challenge of recruiting and retaining high-quality public sector social services staff to meet the needs of customers in child welfare and family services. This paper briefly describes that effort, including the key participants in the process, the nature of the problems targeted, the initial steps taken, and planned future directions.

Key Partners

Public system change is a complicated process that requires the active involvement and partnership of a large number of key constituencies. Many change efforts fail because critical partners are omitted and/or not committed to the process. One of the primary reasons that this initiative has been effective is the consistent high level of collaboration that has existed since the project's inception (with the passage of House Bill 1133 in April,1998). The following key collaborators have participated in the development and implementation of all phases of the project:
  • The Governor and the Maryland Legislature (funding and bill/policy support).
  • The Executive Leadership of the Maryland Department of Human Resources.
  • The Maryland Association of Social Services Directors (24 jurisdictions).
  • The Maryland Department of Budget and Management (funding support).
  • The DHR Social Services Administration (policy/implementation guidance).
  • The DHR Office of Human Resource Development and Training (personnel policy, training, and staffing support).
  • The University of Maryland School of Social Work (training and competency testing).
  • Many advocacy organizations, focused on quality services in the public sector.

Identifying the Problems

Maryland's Department of Human Resources (DHR), in partnership with the directors of the 24 local departments of social services, provides policy guidance, funding support, and assessment services to the local departments. Local directors noted they were experiencing significant issues in recruiting and retaining qualified social services staff. Particular areas of concern included:
  • Reliance upon contractual staff, with no fringe benefits (sick leave, vacation).
  • Staff turnover.
  • Staff vacancy rates.
  • Continuing case coverage requirements whenever staff left.
  • High caseloads.
  • Overnight/weekend case coverage requirements.
  • Problematic work environments.
  • Limited technological and related staff supports.
  • Staff inexperience.
  • Limited interest in public sector employment by MSW/BSW graduates.
  • Reliance upon staff with generic college degrees and limited training.
  • Insufficient staff training in core child welfare/family service competencies.

Initial Steps in Addressing These Problems

The Social Services Administration (SSA) addressed these issues with the cited partners, seeking particularly to increase training opportunities, expand salaries and benefits, and limit the effects of staff turnover due to previous reliance upon contractual staff. Advocates joined in this effort, and a legislative sponsor presented HB1133 in the 1998 session of the Maryland General Assembly. After much fruitful dialogue and some modification, the bill was passed, signed, and became law. With the funding support of the Governor and the Legislature, the following HB1133 core aspects have been addressed over the last three years:
  • Enhancement of Staff Positions. Conversion of contractual staff to standard positions, with benefits, and revision of social services job descriptions and salaries to address regional competitive differences with other states and area private sector agencies.

  • Enhancement of Training Programs. Development of enhanced training programs through the University of Maryland School of Social Work for all new staff, as well as continuing education opportunities for current staff, and development and implementation of competency testing for new staff.

  • Improvement of Caseload Ratios. Assessment and development of a plan to effectively implement the recommended caseload ratios proposed by the Child Welfare League of America in all 24 local departments of social services by June, 2003.

  • Development of Effective Recruitment Strategies. Several recommended strategies have been delineated to attract staff to public sector social services agencies for child welfare and family services.

  • Development of Effective Retention Strategies. Partners have examined several means to support current staff, enhance the workplace environment, and secure effective technological supports.

  • Development of a Specific Marketing Strategy. The Communications Office of the Maryland Department of Human Resources has helped other partners develop a plan to promote public sector services as the place to "Make a Difference" in the lives and futures of children and families.

Future Target Areas

While Maryland has made significant strides in the above six areas, much more still needs to be done. Ten additional specific action areas are currently being addressed at the request of a DHR strategy committee focused upon Recruitment, Retention, and Marketing. These include:
  1. A professional Advertising/Marketing campaign.

  2. Implementation of "Quick Hire" processes for social services candidates.

  3. Implementation of county-specific and regional "Open Houses."

  4. Development of a budget request for "The Well-Equipped Worker" statewide.

  5. Enhancement of regional University partnerships.

  6. Personnel assessment of non-caseload-carrying support staff (e.g., grant development and similar specialized service positions).

  7. Assessment of an "Employee-In-Training" pool of available staff (i.e., to support local departments if/when vacancies become problematic).

  8. Enhancement of tuition reimbursement and CEU reimbursement programs.

  9. Expansion and promotion of current work-study programs.

  10. Expansion of professional recognition programs.


In summary, successfully addressing the workforce crisis is a difficult task in any work environment, but it is particularly difficult in public sector arenas because of the large number of constituencies involved. However, through an ongoing collaborative process, it is clearly possible to implement programs that that hold the promise of significantly enhancing the recruitment and retention of public sector social service workers.

Contact Information

Uma Ahluwalia, Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff
Office of the Governor
Annapolis, MD
Phone: 410.974.5264

Thomas A. Burgess, Director, Office of Human Resource Development and Training
Maryland Department of Human Resources
Phone: 410.767.7554

Craig G. Adams, Director, Office of Management Services
Social Services Administration
Maryland Department of Human Resources
Phone: 410.767.8946

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