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February 2008Vol. 9, No. 1Training Supervisors to Retain Workers

A partnership between the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) and the University of Iowa School of Social Work has led to a collaborative project aimed at improving the recruitment and retention of qualified child welfare workers. Focusing on the specific needs of Iowa's workforce and the results from the first round of Iowa's Child and Family Services Review, the partners developed trainings and curricula for supervisors, as well as college classes for new and prospective workers.

Compared with many other States, caseworker turnover in Iowa is relatively low, and there are sufficient applicants when jobs open. Thus, one issue that supervisor training needed to address was how to maintain morale and keep workers creative and engaged in their jobs. Retention of experienced workers remains an issue in Iowa, with a substantial proportion of supervisors planning to retire in the next few years. Another issue addressed by the project was the need for professionally trained workers, since Iowa does not require caseworkers to have a social work degree.

Drawing on the expertise of a statewide advisory board and input from surveys and focus groups with supervisors in the field, the project staff developed a curriculum for supervisor training that included five modules:

  • Contemporary child welfare supervisory practice
  • Human resources functions of supervisors
  • Case practice supervision
  • Clinical practice supervision
  • Leading positive change during organizational transformation and the supervisor's role in addressing worker stress and safety

Each module is taught during a 1-to-2 day training, and the trainings are offered in four cohorts for all of the supervisors and administrators in the State. The interactive trainings also give supervisors the welcomed opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with their peers.

To address the issue of attracting qualified candidates for jobs, project staff worked on developing a child welfare specialization for University of Iowa B.S.W. and M.S.W. students. A class in contemporary child welfare practice was developed and has been taught for several semesters. Two other courses are planned for the final year: a graduate-level course in child welfare supervision and a course in clinical issues in child welfare practice.

Project staff have planned an ambitious evaluation to measure knowledge, behavior, and organizational climate before and after supervisor trainings. In addition, evaluators are looking at the influence of workplace factors, job stressors, and professional orientation on a supervisors' commitment to child welfare practice.

By having a positive impact on supervisory skills, the project partners hope to increase worker and supervisor retention and improve the quality of job candidates, which will lead to better outcomes for children and families.

For more information about the project, contact the project director:
Miriam Landsman, Ph.D.
351 North Hall
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242

The Improving Recruitment and Retention in Public Child Welfare project is funded by the Children's Bureau, Grant 90CT0111, under the Children's Bureau Priority Area: Developing Models of Effective Child Welfare Staff Recruitment and Retention Training. This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from official Children's Bureau site visits.

Related Items

For more information on supervision, see "Strengthening Child Welfare Supervision" in this issue's News From the Children's Bureau section.

An extensive literature review on social work supervision can be found on the website of the Southern Regional Quality Improvement Center for Child Protection: (PDF - 67 KB)