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Vol. 12, No. 1
January 2007

Child Welfare Worker Retention

Turnover in child welfare is a serious challenge. In 2006, state administrators ranked caseworker recruitment and retention as the number two problem in the U.S. child welfare system (USGAO, 2006).

It is easy to see why. Our failure to attract and hang on to employees in child welfare is a drag on our performance. It lowers morale, reduces efficiency, and eats up time and money as agencies seek, hire, and train new employees.

More importantly, turnover interferes with our ability to keep children safe and achieve positive outcomes for them and their families (USGAO, 2003).

Retention is such a tough problem because leaving a job is a complex individual decision—one influenced by interwoven social, professional, and economic factors (Weaver et al., 2006). Because of this there is no single, simple solution to worker retention. As the box below illustrates, today’s workforce trends are not encouraging.

At the same time, agencies and researchers are working harder than ever to turn things around. This issue of Practice Notes describes the efforts currently being made by the UNC-Chapel Hill’s recruitment and retention project, and it presents suggestions for things frontline staff, supervisors, administrators, and agency directors can do to solve the workforce crisis so we can stop worrying about staff vacancies and focus all our attention on serving families and children.

Workforce Trends in Social Work

In Social Work Generally

  • 30% are 55 and older as compared to 13.9% across all occupations.
  • High growth occupation (greater than the 14.8% projected national average) [BLS, 2004; Barth, 2001]
  • Social workers earn about 11% less than those in other service occupations (Barth, 2001)
  • Social workers are highly committed, which may lead to “stickiness” and help depress wages (Barth, 2001)

In Child Welfare Nationally

  • Vacancies are staying open longer today than in 2000.
  • Vacancy rates for public child welfare workers are significantly higher than those of other state and local government workers.
  • Average pay is markedly lower than for nurses, teachers, police officers, and fire fighters (APHSA, 2004).

In Child Welfare in North Carolina
(according to a 2004 NC Office of State Personnel Study)

  • 73% of employees have less than 5 years experience
  • Statewide vacancy rate = 31%
  • Turnover rates highest in Case Management and Investigations
  • At least 71 days needed to fill a SW III position


Contents of this Issue

Child Welfare Worker Retention in North Carolina

How Worker Turnover Affects Kids in Foster Care

What Is North Carolina Doing to Promote Retention?

What Can We Learn from those Who Stick Around?

North Carolina's Recruitment and Retention Project

Study Shows High Staff Turnover Linked to Maltreatment Recurrence

Innovative Child Welfare Staffing Strategy

Study: Improve Retention by Giving New Workers Cases Gradually

How You Impact Worker Retention

References for this Issue

Click here to read or print the entire issue as a pdf file

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