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Finding Better Ways to Meet the Workforce Challenge: Conference and Preliminary Study by CWLA

7/10/2001:   To learn better ways to deal with the workforce challenge among public and private, nonprofit agencies serving children and families, child welfare professionals and administrators attended a national conference in May 2001. At the conference, sponsored by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) in Dallas, Texas, participants shared their experiences in various aspects of recruiting and retaining committed, qualified workers in the field.

A study of workforce issues was initiated in fall 2000, through a partnership of CWLA, the American Public Human Services Association, and the Alliance for Children and Families. Each organization surveyed its members to gather data about the challenges and effective practices in recruiting and retaining a quality child welfare workforce.

The text of the preliminary report is available in HTML and PDF formats at http://www.cwla.org/programs/trieschman/surveyworkforce/preliminary.htm. The report will be used to prepare recommendations to the administration and Congress regarding child welfare workforce issues and lay the groundwork for future studies.

Responses were received from public agencies in 43 states, 48 counties, and 151 private agencies. Survey highlights include:

  • According to 82% of the state agencies and 39% of private agencies, workload is highly problematic for retaining employees.

  • Caseload size and overall workload were identified as critical factors in retaining workers. Counselors, social workers, and therapists who work with children carry an average of 31 cases in the public sector and 14 in the private sector. The average caseload for child protective services (CPS) workers was 24 cases in the public sector and 13 cases in the private sector.

  • Agencies reported average vacancy rates of about 10% for both CPS and other caseworker positions, both public and private.

  • Private agencies reported average annual turnover rates for total staff of more than 45%.

  • Average annual turnover rates for CPS and other caseworker positions ranged from 20% (state agencies) to 40% (private agencies).

  • Noncompetitive salaries were a critical problem in recruiting and retaining qualified staff. Not uncommonly, the service workers who do this difficult, demanding, even dangerous work receive less pay than a convenience store clerk.

  • The most frequent retention strategies were special efforts to increase salaries or improve staff development programs.

  • A majority of agencies reported that failure to resolve the workforce problems would compromise their ability to provide quality services to children and families in the future.

In April, Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced The Child Protective Services Improvement Act (H.R. 1371) in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill authorizes $500 million for fiscal years 2002 through 2006 to improve child welfare workers’ wages, increase the number of workers, reduce the turnover and vacancy rate in child welfare agencies, increase the education and training of child welfare workers, attract and retain qualified candidates, and coordinate services with other agencies.

The legislation strongly encourages states to make these resources available to nonprofit private providers and creates a five-year loan-forgiveness demonstration program for child welfare workers employed by an agency for at least two years.

For more details, see the above CWLA Web address or visit http://www.cwla.org/advocacy/2001legagenda04.htm. In addition, The Workforce Crisis in Child Welfare: An Issue Brief by Floyd Alwon and Andrew Reitz can be ordered at http://www.cwla.org/pubs/pubdetails.asp?PUBID=8021.

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