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GAO Report Links The Safety of Abused and Neglected Children and Workforce Turnover/Caseloads

Recent newspaper headlines call our attention that we as a nation need to do a better job of protecting our children from abuse and neglect. With over 2.7 million children referred for possible child abuse and neglect in 2000 and over 1,200 children tragically dying as a result of child abuse and neglect, this is a tragic wake-up call that cannot be denied. If we as a country are serious about keeping our children safe, action must be taken now.

The ability to protect children from abuse and neglect and to ensure the safety of children who have been abused and neglected is in jeopardy if immediate actions are not taken. High caseloads, caseworker turnover, minimal training, and the need for professional standards are obstacles in protecting our children under the current child welfare system. The General Accounting Office, in releasing it's report (GAO Report 03-357) details that in order to effectively provide child welfare services and meet federal performance goals, child welfare agencies must meet the challenge of a stable and highly skilled workforce. Their findings included:

  • The safety and permanency of children is hampered by large caseloads and worker turnover. This delays the timeliness of investigations and limits the frequency of worker visits with children. In review of the Child and Family Service Reviews of 27 states, workforce deficiencies such as high caseloads, training deficiencies, and staffing shortages, affected the outcomes for children and families in care.

  • Child welfare staff have insufficient time to conduct the types of home visits necessary to assess a child's safety and make well-supported decisions to ensure safe and stable permanent homes due to high turnover rates and staffing shortages.

  • Trust between the child and the caseworker is critical, and the negative effective of turnover can be especially problematic in residential facilities where children and youth experience around-the-clock care. Worker turnover disrupts this trust and makes it difficult to get the information needed to make sound decisions. During a transition, cases without workers also means that information in case records is difficult to maintain, resulting in delays or changes to critical decisions about keeping a child safe or securing a permanent family.
Building on the findings and promising approaches contained in the GAO Report, the Child Welfare League of America recommends the following actions:

  • To ensure the safety of children in the child welfare system, adequate federal resources and supports necessary for child welfare agencies to maintain national caseload standards must be provided. Meeting these standards will allow agencies to focus on children and their outcomes, retain qualified caseworkers, and reduce caseloads per caseworker.

  • To improve the quality of child welfare services and better serve children and families, federal loan forgiveness and training programs must be immediately initiated. This will result in increasing the size of the child welfare workforce and improvement of caseworker skills.

  • To continue to track and study the impact of recruitment and retention of child welfare workers in the context of improving overall child safety, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should be directed to review and assess employee screening tools as part of the Child and Family Service Reviews currently underway.
You may access this GAO report, Child Welfare: HHS Could Play a Greater Role in Helping Child Welfare Agencies Recruit and Retain Staff (GAO-03-357; PDF file) online at CWLA's website For more information, contact Naomi Goldman at 617/769-4003 or

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