Top Causes of Staff Turnover at Child Welfare Agencies — and What to Do About it

Posted March 4, 2019, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Father talks with young son

Address­ing staff turnover is one of the child wel­fare system’s great­est chal­lenges. Employ­ee depar­tures can erode agency morale and upend an already-stress­ful work envi­ron­ment. Los­ing a staff mem­ber is also expen­sive. Each exit­ing work­er costs an agency around $54,000 to replace, which is equiv­a­lent to about 70 to 200% of an employee’s salary.

Enter Five Steps to A Stronger Child Wel­fare Work­force, a report devel­oped by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion that is focused on help­ing child wel­fare agen­cies nav­i­gate this impor­tant issue. Five Steps is root­ed in real-world expe­ri­ences: Over three years, Casey part­nered with two juris­dic­tions — Cuya­hoga Coun­ty in Ohio and Jef­fer­son Coun­ty in Col­orado — to bet­ter under­stand why employ­ees leave and what steps agen­cies can take to build a secure, sta­ble workforce.

The four main fac­tors fuel­ing staff turnover, accord­ing to research high­light­ed in the report, are:

  • stress;
  • emo­tion­al exhaustion;
  • job sat­is­fac­tion; and
  • the per­cep­tion of the orga­ni­za­tion’s com­mit­ment to employees.

Based on this infor­ma­tion, Five Steps notes that child wel­fare lead­ers should aim to cre­ate a pos­i­tive work­ing envi­ron­ment that sup­ports the emo­tion­al well-being of their employ­ees. Actions that agen­cies can take on this front, as out­lined in the report, are:

  1. Con­duct­ing annu­al sur­veys. Ask­ing employ­ees what they think about their work respon­si­bil­i­ties and work cul­ture enables agen­cies to bet­ter under­stand how they are cur­rent­ly sup­port­ing employ­ees and where they can do better.
  2. Host­ing focus groups and reten­tion inter­views. In-per­son con­ver­sa­tions give employ­ees a chance to be heard and demon­strate management’s com­mit­ment to lis­ten­ing and address­ing their staff’s concerns.
  3. Rec­og­niz­ing the trau­ma and emo­tion­al chal­lenges that come with the job. Child wel­fare work­ers are often the first respon­ders to dif­fi­cult fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tions and fre­quent­ly expe­ri­ence sec­ondary trau­ma from what they wit­ness,” says Cyn­thia Weiskit­tel, direc­tor of the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Divi­sion of Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, when child wel­fare work­ers in Cuya­hoga Coun­ty received coun­sel­ing or train­ing for man­ag­ing sec­ondary trau­ma, they report­ed feel­ing bet­ter about their jobs.
  4. Pay­ing atten­tion to employ­ee sub­groups. Agen­cies — and teams with­in a giv­en agency — should seek to iden­ti­fy and under­stand employ­ees who face unique chal­lenges. These sub­groups include: new hires, young peo­ple, peo­ple of col­or and those who speak anoth­er language.

While these rec­om­men­da­tions may seem like added activ­i­ties for orga­ni­za­tions that are already strapped for resources and time, even small steps can make a big dif­fer­ence. Through the approach out­lined in Five Steps, Cuya­hoga Coun­ty sig­nif­i­cant­ly improved its reten­tion and time-to-fill rates and is now includ­ed as a case study in the report.

Employ­ees rec­og­nize when the agency makes gen­uine efforts to improve,” says Stacey Ger­ber, a Casey con­sul­tant who advised Cuya­hoga Coun­ty in its staff reten­tion turn­around. When an agency com­mu­ni­cates about its improve­ment plans and imple­ments changes, employ­ee sat­is­fac­tion increas­es. Employ­ees tru­ly feel that their con­cerns and needs are being addressed and that relief is on the way.”

Read about how child wel­fare sys­tems can improve their deci­sion-mak­ing processes

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