How does turnover affect outcomes and what can be done to address retention?

A high rate of workforce turnover is common in the child welfare field. High turnover affects not only the agency, primarily through higher costs, but also the children and families the agency serves. Not all turnover is preventable, but agencies can be aware of the factors that are predictive of high turnover and implement strategies to mitigate those factors.

A well-trained, highly skilled, well-resourced and appropriately deployed workforce is foundational to a child welfare agency’s ability to achieve best outcomes for the vulnerable children, youth and families it serves

Why retention matters

Investing in the child welfare workforce is an essential activity of any child welfare agency,1 “because a well-trained, highly skilled, well-resourced and appropriately deployed workforce is foundational to a child welfare agency’s ability to achieve best outcomes for the vulnerable children, youth and families it serves. The workforce is the agency’s public face. …The actions of the workforce are what stakeholders use most to judge an agency’s competence and effectiveness.”2

Turnover rates

Annual turnover rates below 10–12 percent are considered optimal or healthy.3,4 For the past 15 years, child welfare turnover rates have been estimated at 20–40 percent.5,6,7 The available data currently reflect an estimated national average turnover rate of approximately 30 percent (with individual agency rates as high as 65 percent and as low as 6 percent). Even higher average rates of turnover have been noted among child welfare trainees: 46–54 percent.8,9 The table in the appendix provides a snapshot of current turnover rates in 33 child welfare agencies.

Turnover predictors and costs

A meta-analysis of 22 studies identified 36 variables that most affected caseworkers’ intention to leave10 (see chart below).

High workloads that accompany high caseloads have been associated with high turnover, given their impact on caseworkers’ levels of stress, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction,11,12,13 and on key casework functions, including:

  • Timeliness, continuity, and quality of service delivery;
  • Family engagement and relationship-building; and,
  • Safety and permanency outcomes for vulnerable children, youth, and families.

High workloads can have a domino effect: staff burnout and stress lead to staff attrition that can result in decreased worker-family contact and failure to meet professional standards for investigation response and completion; case plan completion and updates, and service provision; as well as increased time to permanency, rates of maltreatment recurrence, and the number of foster care placements and re-entries into foster care.11,12,13

High caseloads and workloads

High caseloads and workloads reflect an array of direct and indirect costs:14

  • Direct costs related to overtime, worker separation, and hiring/training new staff
  • Indirect costs for other workers (increased paperwork and case management, emotional exhaustion, supervisors redirecting time to providing direct service)
  • Cost of processing changes in placement (staff meetings, new reports, identifying and placing a child in new placement, paperwork)
  • Cost of increased time in foster care (whether a group or family home) as a result of reduced permanency and decreased chances of reunification
  • Cost of recurrence of abuse and neglect, including the cost of investigation(s) and foster care placement(s)
  • Cost of failure to meet federal performance standards, including potential loss of federal Title IV-E funding

Every time a caseworker leaves, the cost to the child welfare agency is 30–200 percent of the exiting employee’s annual salary.15 In Texas, this estimated cost to the child welfare agency was found to be approximately $54,000 per departing staff member.16 

Given the costs associated with caseworkers’ intentions to leave, strategies related to addressing variables most likely to affect turnover — stress, emotional exhaustion, organizational commitment, and job satisfaction—should be prioritized for legislative and agency attention.

Strategies to support effective recruitment and retention

Research and practice have highlighted 10 essential components of workforce development, with an accompanying menu of strategies. Some states have made significant investments in comprehensive workforce development,17 and several legislatures have mandated that jurisdictions assess workforce issues, meet identified standards, implement specific strategies such as hiring additional staff, and report on progress.18,19

The resources below provide a range of potential strategies for consideration, along with links to related approaches and examples for further exploration.

Prioritizing Inquiry and Assessment

Related strategies

  • Analysis of turnover and organizational environment to identify strategies
  • Caseload and workload assessments to ensure adequate staffing levels and realistic distribution
    of cases

Jurisdictional approaches and examples

Leading and elevating comprehensive workforce development

Related strategies

  • Comprehensive workforce development plan
  • Dedicated “home” for workforce development, with workforce director/manager on senior/executive team
  • Taskforce on workforce development
  • Engaging the public, union, and other stakeholders to promote greater attention and shared investment in addressing recruitment and retention challenges

Jurisdictional approaches and examples

Identifying the right competencies

Related strategies

  • Formal job analysis of essential knowledge, skills, and abilities
  • Development of competency model for all positions
  • Specialized positions to support effective casework (e.g., administrative, nursing, domestic violence, practice model, youth advocacy, mental health, substance abuse, organizational health/workforce development)

Jurisdictional approaches and examples

Educating and preparing the right students

Related strategies

  • University-agency educational partnerships with loan forgiveness/stipends, specialized coursework to address preservice training requirements, and incentives for current staff to obtain BSW/MSW degrees

Jurisdictional approaches and examples

Finding and hiring the best applicants

Related strategies

  • Additional caseworker and supervisory positions
  • Recruitment/PR campaign with positive images and inspirational messaging
  • Realistic job preview videos that reflect job and agency
  • Behavioral/competency-based screening
  • Predictive analytics for employee selection
  • Incentives/bonuses for positions with unpredictable schedules or in specific geographical areas

Jurisdictional approaches and examples

Onboarding and welcoming new staff

Related strategies

Intentional onboarding process:

  • Phased training and orientation over 12–18 months
  • Field training units for new staff (before being placed in offices) where they receive mentoring, coaching, joint field visits, peer learning circles
  • Low-risk case assignment (not hotline or investigations)
  • Phased/gradual case assignment

Jurisdictional approaches and examples

Providing incentives and case management supports

Related strategies

  • Additional positions to achieve manageable caseloads that reflect industry standards
  • Equipping staff with smartphones and tablet devices
  • Case management tools/applications to streamline paperwork and workflow
  • Business process mapping
  • Casework teaming
  • Specialized telework units
  • Alternative work schedules and job sharing
  • Specialized programming to mitigate secondary trauma
  • Safety awareness training and supports (office and field)
  • Peer mentoring, crisis helpline, and onsite crisis response
  • Administrative positions to support casework functions so that staff can be in the field
  • Overhire/seasonal positions

Jurisdictional approaches and examples

Training and developing the team

Related strategies

A comprehensive training system that includes:

  • Assessment of training needs
  • Agency-wide training plan with staff learning plans
  • Robust catalog (pre-service, new worker, in service)
  • Benchmarks and policies for number of courses/hours completed
  • Learning Management System
  • Multi-modal opportunities (eLearning, blended classroom, video/webinar, tools/job aids)
  • Simulations to support real world application
  • Trainer assessment and quality improvement
  • Evaluation of satisfaction, knowledge gain and impact
  • Specialized certificate programs

Jurisdictional approaches and examples

Managing and supervising effectively

Related strategies

  • Manageable supervisor-to-staff ratios
  • Supervisory competency model
  • Supervisory/managerial pre-service training or leadership academy
  • Peer mentoring/coaching committee

Jurisdictional approaches and examples

Nurturing a healthy agency climate and culture

Related strategies

  • Validated climate/culture assessments to better understand workforce and organizational issues
  • Design teams with staff at all levels to identify and implement local retention solutions
  • Data dashboard or website to showcase impacts/outcomes
  • ChildStat to debrief casework and remedy agency barriers
  • Stay Interviews
  • Staff recognition/appreciation events and activities

Jurisdictional approaches and examples

Appendix

It is important to consider the figures in this appendix with the following caveat: all child welfare agencies do not define or capture attrition data in the same fashion. Some agency figures reflect both preventable (voluntary resignation) as well as non-preventable (termination, retirement, layoff, relocation, etc.) turnover, while others distinguish between the two. Some agencies include both internal (promotion, moving from one unit to another within the agency, or moving to another agency within a county) as well as external (leaving the agency turnover), while others differentiate between these various types.

 

 

 

 

1 National Child Welfare Workforce Institute. (n.d.) Why the workforce matters [Issue brief]. Retrieved from http://ncwwi.org/files/Why_the_Workforce_Matters.pdf
2 American Public Human Services Association. (2010). Workforce guidance. Retrieved from http://www.aphsa.org/content/dam/aphsa/PPCWG/Reflective%20thinking%20guide/Workforce/Workforce%20Guidance%20(1).pdf
3 Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). 10 practices: A child welfare leader’s desk guide to building a high-performing agency. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/aecf-10Pracrticespart1-2015.pdf
4 Gallant, M. (2013). Does your organization have a healthy employee turnover rate. [SABA Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.halogensoftware.com/blog/does-your-organization-have-healthy-employee-turnover
5 U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2003). HHS could play a greater role in helping child welfare agencies recruit and retain staff (GAO-03-357). Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-03-357
6 American Public Human Services Association. (2005). Report from the 2004 child welfare workforce survey, state agency findings. Retrieved from http://www.theprofessionalmatrix.com/docs/WorkforceReport2005.pdf
7 National Child Welfare Workforce Institute. (2011). Child welfare workforce demographics (2000–2010): Snapshot of the frontline child welfare caseworker. Retrieved from http://ncwwi.org/files/Workforce_Demographic_Trends_May2011.pdf
8 West Virginia Legislative Auditor, Performance Evaluation & Research Division. (2013). Agency review: Bureau for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services (Report No. PE 13-03-539). Retrieved from http://www.legis.state.wv.us/joint/perd/perdrep/ChildFam_8_2013.pdf
9 Chang, J. (2017). State child protection agency halts hiring, citing drop in turnovers. Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved from http://www.mystatesman.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/state-child-protection-agency-halts-hiring-citing-drop-turnovers/MvbWAIePp5jMUpEQaOrbSM/
10 Kim, H. & Kao, D. (2014). A meta-analysis of turnover intention predictors among US child welfare workers. Children & Youth Services Review, 47, 214–223.
11 Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Caseload and workload management. State Managers Series [Issue brief]. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/case_work_management.pdf
12 Children’s Research Center (2009). Agency workforce estimation: Simple steps for improving child safety and permanency. FOCUS: Retrieved from http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/focus09_agency_workforce_estimation.pdf
13 Social Work Policy Institute. (2010). High caseloads: How do they impact delivery of health and human services? Retrieved from http://www.socialworkpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/r2p-cw-caseload-swpi-1-10.pdf
14 American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). (2016). Cost savings from reasonable child welfare workloads [Issue brief]. Retrieved from https://ncwwi.org/files/Job_Analysis__Position_Requirements/Cost_Savings_from_Reasonable_Child_Welfare_Workloads.pdf
15 CPS Human Resource Services. (2006). The turnover toolkit: A guide to understanding and reducing employee turnover: Tool 1: Calculating the cost of employee turnover [Excerpted chapter]. Retrieved from http://ncwwi.org/files/Retention/Calculating_the_cost_of_Employee_Turnover.pdf
16 Patel, D., McClure, M., Phillips, S., & Booker, D. (2017). Child protective services workforce analysis and recommendations. (Texas Association for the Protection of Children issue brief). Retrieved from http://ncwwi.org/files/Retention/Child_Protective_Services_Workforce_Analysis_and_Recommendations.pdf
17 Munson, S. (2016). NJ DCF workforce report: A commitment to child welfare excellence through comprehensive workforce & leadership development. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers School of Social Work, Institute for Families. Retrieved from http://www.nj.gov/dcf/childdata/exitplan/NJ.DCF.Workforce.Report_2015-2016.pdf
18 Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Caseload and workload management. State Managers Series [Issue brief]. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/case_work_management.pdf
19 State of Colorado, House Bill 17-1283. (2017). An act concerning the creation of a task force to examine workforce resiliency in the child welfare system. Retrieved from https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2017A/bills/2017a_1283_signed.pdf

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