Staff turnover in child welfare agencies is about six times greater than the average for all other job sectors in the United States, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reports. This weakens the agencies’ effectiveness in helping at-risk children and families.
To help identify ways to keep child welfare caseworkers on the job longer, Child Protective Services of the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services (CCDJFS) joined a national four-year study led by the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (QIC-WD). Champaign is one of eight Ohio counties in the study, which also includes children’s services agencies in six other states and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
“Child protective services is a highly demanding and difficult job,” said Stacy Cox, social services administrator of CCDJFS. “The workers are faced with daily crises in the families they serve. They’re often pulled in multiple directions. And this job can have a huge impact on your own personal life due to after-hours coverage.”
The impact of stress on the job
She adds that working with families in crisis can have an emotional impact on caseworkers, known as secondary traumatic stress.
Also contributing to caseworkers’ stress: increasing volume of required documentation and the rise in opioid addiction, which adds to their caseload. Drug addiction puts more children in unsafe, unsupervised situations and has a role in increasing the number of Champaign County children in foster care – 28 currently, up from the typical eight to 12 children, Cox said.
Champaign County Child Protective Services had turnover rates of 28 percent in 2014; 53 percent, 2015; 23 percent, 2016; and 33 percent, 2017.
In exit interviews, said Cox, resigning caseworkers have shared comments such as: “This job took too much of a mental toll, it’s emotionally draining, I can’t turn my mind off when I go home, and that it makes it difficult to meet the needs of their own families.”
The high turnover further fuels rising caseloads and stress for remaining caseworkers, she said.
Replacing caseworkers takes valuable time, Angie Robeson, CCDJFS human resources officer, said. And new caseworkers require about six months to complete core training and begin investigating child protection cases.
Looking for solutions
CCDJFS has acted on its own to help find solutions to the problem, Cox and Robeson said. This includes:
• Adding two caseworker positions (and the agency became fully staffed in July)
• Using an automated voice-to-text transcription service to cut down on documentation work
• Adopting a memorandum of understanding with the Clark County Department of Job and Family Services to assist with after hours on-call service
• Entering a contract with Adriel foster care and adoption services in West Liberty to assist with supervised parental visitations
• Adopting flexible scheduling for caseworkers – to help them meet the needs of children and families they serve, while also having more time for their own
• Making modest pay increases
Preparing for the study
For the QIC-WD study, agencies in each state will select an intervention to test. Agencies in each state will try out and track a different intervention. Results of the interventions will be compared.
Cox said that representatives of the participating Ohio child service agencies have met twice to begin planning their participation in the study and the intervention they will adopt for trial. Also for the study, QIC-WD will survey caseworkers of the participating agencies to determine how they feel about their work and the agency they work for. Results will be used as a baseline for comparison at the end of the study.
From the study, Cox said, she hopes to learn techniques that will help Champaign County Child Protective Services retain and recruit caseworkers, “so we can better address the issue of child well-being and permanency. We need well-trained staff with tenure to be as effective as we can be.”
Gary Schenkel wrote this story on behalf of Champaign County Child Protective Services.