CWLA has been setting caseload and workload standards as part of the Program Specific Standards of Excellence since the 1980s. The caseload standards reflect the maximum number of cases for which a worker should be responsible. In relation to services such as residential and family foster care, the caseload standard actually should reflect the number of children or families for which a worker should be responsible. CWLA recognizes that a number is not sufficient and that the actual workload—what it takes to do the work—should also be taken into account. Therefore, each Program Specific Standard of Excellence also recommends that a workload study be conducted in order to obtain a better understanding of what the actual caseload size should be, given the specific work being done and the local context. Unfortunately, most stakeholders tend to focus only on the caseload size standards, not on what it takes to do the work and what a reasonable workload should be. The recent CWLA publication Caseload & Workload: A synthesis of: The Evidence base, Current Trends, and Future Directions found when examining workload studies done in 29 jurisdictions, “study findings showed that 63–76% of worker time was used in serving children and families, a significant percentage of this time was used for case-related activities that took the workers away from direct contact with the children and families.”
Unmanageable caseloads/workloads impact workers’ ability to achieve positive outcomes for the children and families served, and as well as worker turnover. Therefore, child welfare agencies should strive to ensure that their staff has manageable workloads to achieve positive outcomes for the children and families they serve.
CWLA’s National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare provides that each employer should have a system appropriate to its size and function for evaluating the effectiveness of its workforce and the efficacy of each person’s workload.
The opportunities and benefits of striving for reasonable workloads is not simple tasks, but can produce better outcomes for children and families. Reducing workloads supports efforts to engage a reasonable number of families and deliver quality services, achieve positive outcomes for children and families, retain workers, and support positive workforce attitudes and well-being. CWLA has an initiative underway to update its Program Specific Caseload/Workload Standards, moving away from focus on caseload standards (which identified a number) to outcome-based workload standards and creating a methodology for managing them.
While this work takes place, there are existing examples of states and local agencies that have implemented strategies to reduce caseloads and manage workloads.