How One Colorado County Cut its Child Welfare Hiring Time by More Than Half

Posted December 3, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Hiring qualified staff quickly is important for child welfare systems

Some child wel­fare agen­cies see 90% of their staff depart over the course of a year, accord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices. Equal­ly dis­cour­ag­ing: These vacan­cies can take up to three months to fill, the Amer­i­can Pub­lic Health Asso­ci­a­tion estimates.

Yet, thanks to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s On the Front­line ini­tia­tive — a mul­ti­year effort to help strength­en child wel­fare work­forces — one Col­orado coun­ty is chal­leng­ing these trends.

Staff at Jef­fer­son County’s Divi­sion of Chil­dren, Youth, Fam­i­lies and Adult Pro­tec­tion saw their time to fill” win­dow shrink from 72 days in 2014 to just 27 days in 2017, accord­ing to a new Casey Foun­da­tion report, Five Steps to a Stronger Child Wel­fare Work­force.

Our biggest bar­ri­er was the num­ber of vacan­cies,” says Natal­ie Mall, the agency’s asso­ciate direc­tor. When there are so many vacan­cies, everyone’s work­load gets larg­er and peo­ple can’t see the light at the end of the tun­nel, so they leave and the cycle starts all over again.”

Five Steps, free to down­load, high­lights best prac­tices for address­ing high turnover rates and ensur­ing staff mem­bers are hired, trained and retained to best sup­port chil­dren and families.

Mall says that On the Front­line helped Jef­fer­son County:

  • Iden­ti­fy the great­est chal­lenge. For us, we rec­og­nized our tenured staff were leav­ing because work­loads were so high,” Mall says. A third of our work­force was vacant, which put stress on our team and this trick­led down to the chil­dren in care and their fam­i­lies. Chil­dren were being intro­duced to so many new case­work­ers that they did not know who they could trust.”
  • Cre­ate sys­tems and process­es to make hir­ing less labo­ri­ous. Mall works with the human resources depart­ment to cre­ate a con­tin­u­ous post­ing to reduce the time to fill” vacan­cies, instead of cre­at­ing a job post­ing every time some­one resigns.
  • Lever­age rela­tion­ships and a Work­force Inno­va­tion Team. Jef­fer­son Coun­ty pri­or­i­tized cre­at­ing strong rela­tion­ships between human resources staff and agency lead­ers and estab­lished a Work­force Inno­va­tion Team that meets month­ly to review turnover and reten­tion data to con­tin­u­al­ly enhance the hir­ing process.
  • Cre­ate hir­ing teams. Jef­fer­son Coun­ty cre­at­ed ded­i­cat­ed teams — small groups of two super­vi­sors and two case­work­ers — who screen and inter­view can­di­dates on a month­ly basis. This effort also helped to increase diver­si­ty among staff and boost team morale.
  • Iden­ti­fy core com­pe­ten­cies. Mall’s team iden­ti­fied the core behav­ioral com­pe­ten­cies need­ed to be a suc­cess­ful case­work­er in Jef­fer­son Coun­ty. Dur­ing inter­views, Jef­fer­son Coun­ty screened for these com­pe­ten­cies, such as adapt­abil­i­ty, col­lab­o­ra­tion, ini­tia­tive and an abil­i­ty to facil­i­tate change.

The Five Steps pub­li­ca­tion is a help­ful guide to not only improve the work­force but also to bet­ter serve chil­dren and fam­i­lies in need,” Mall says. So many peo­ple are depend­ing on us to pro­vide them the best ser­vice and care. We need the most qual­i­fied and com­mit­ted peo­ple to be able to do so.”

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