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May 2005Vol. 6, No. 4Child Welfare Workforce Survey Reveals Continuing Concerns, Creative Strategies

A recent survey found State child welfare agencies continue to be plagued by workforce issues that include high turnover, low compensation, demanding workloads, and limited resources. Despite these shortcomings, many State agencies have begun to implement creative recruitment and retention strategies, as well as to focus on strategies that address preventable turnover.

The survey was conducted in the summer of 2004 by the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), Fostering Results, and the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research, with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Surveys, which focused on case-carrying child welfare workers, were completed by child welfare administrators in 42 States. Administrators provided information on salaries, education, training, caseloads, hiring, turnover, recruitment, and retention.

Many of the findings could be compared with those from a similar survey conducted in 2000. Results show:

  • The vacancy rate improved slightly for child protective services (CPS) workers (from 9.3 percent in 2000 to 8.5 percent in 2004), but vacancies stayed open longer.
  • Turnover rates rose during the period (from 19.9 percent in 2000 to 22.1 percent in 2004 for CPS workers).
  • While salaries increased, they did not keep pace with the cost of living, nor were they as high as the salaries of other public and private service workers, such as teachers, firefighters, and nurses.
  • Respondents listed budget constraints as the top factor contributing to recruitment and preventable turnover.
  • Preventable problems found to cause staff to leave included workloads and caseloads that were too demanding, interference of work with their personal lives, and insufficient resources for client families and children.

The survey also asked about strategies that administrators used to recruit new child welfare workers. The three most effective strategies were:

  • Partnerships with universities or stipends for students
  • Job announcements on websites
  • Early and aggressive recruiting at social work schools

In addition, administrators rated strategies for retaining workers. According to the survey results, the five most effective were:

  • Increased and improved inservice training
  • Increased educational opportunities
  • Increased and improved orientation and preservice training
  • Available technology such as laptops and cell phones
  • Improved professional culture throughout the agency

The full Report From the 2004 Child Welfare Workforce Survey is available on the APHSA website at (Editor's note: Link no longer active).

Related Items

A recent article in the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment found that exposure to public child welfare agencies increased masters of social work (M.S.W.) students' interest in pursuing careers with those agencies. This was found to be a more significant predictive influence on students' decisions than a number of sociodemographic factors, including gender, age, and socioeconomic background. The findings are based on survey data from 5,793 students in accredited M.S.W. programs in California between 1992 and 1998. The study is titled "Factors Influencing M.S.W. Students' Interest in Public Child Welfare," by researcher R. Perry, and it can be accessed at

Read more about the child welfare workforce in previous issues of Children's Bureau Express:

  • "Online Resource for Child Welfare Training" (February 2005)
  • "Addressing the Staffing Crisis in Child and Family Services" (June 2004)
  • "Meeting the Challenge: Recruiting and Retaining Quality Staff" (August 2003)