April 2017Vol. 18, No. 2Texas CPS Workforce Analysis and Recommendations
Between 2001 and 2015, a total of 3,078 children died as a result of abuse and/or neglect in the State of Texas, and approximately half of those fatalities involved families that had current or previous involvement with child protective services (CPS). These statistics stress the need for dedicated and experienced CPS workers to respond to reports of maltreatment in a timely manner and to conduct trauma-informed investigations, assessments, and removal or placement decisions.
Because of the rising number of child abuse and neglect cases in Texas, hiring and retaining dedicated CPS caseworkers can be a challenge. There are a number of hindrances to job satisfaction in this field, which can lead to a high turnover rate and heavy caseloads for those who stay in their jobs. The report, Child Protective Services Workforce Analysis and Recommendations, produced by the Texas Association for the Protection of Children, addresses the challenges causing CPS workers to voluntarily leave their jobs and provides recommendations to ensure CPS maintains a strong and professional workforce to ensure better outcomes for children in Texas.
The report focuses on the following obstacles that may cause CPS caseworkers to resign from their positions and the recommendations for reform:
- Insufficient compensation—About three-quarters (76 percent) of former caseworkers revealed during their exit interviews that their pay was insufficient in relation to the amount and nature of the work they do. Recommendations to address compensation include implementing a market-driven, cost-of-living adjusted compensation package, which would increase annual baseline salaries to be on par with other professions.
- Heavy caseloads—Survey results indicated that turnover increases when caseworkers have an unmanageable caseload. This also results in poor outcomes for the children and families involved in these cases as well as even more work for existing caseworkers. Recommendations to address heavy caseloads include implementing a "just-in-time" hiring process using turnover data to help forecast when turnover is more likely to occur. This strategy would allow the Department of Family and Protective Services to hire based on projected and current vacancies, which will result in timelier replacement of caseworkers and fewer abandoned cases.
- Education—Social workers with either a bachelor's or a master's degree in social work are better trained and better suited to be caseworkers and are less likely to leave their jobs than those who do not have social work degrees. In 2016, the Department of Family and Protective Services, however, relaxed a requirement for hiring to focus on applicants with at least a bachelor's degree in a human services field and is now allowing applicants with a combination of 60 college credits and 2 years relevant work experience to substitute for a bachelor or master's degree in social work. Recommendations to address these relaxed education requirements include developing a workforce consisting of a minimum of 65 percent bachelor's-level and 25 percent master's-level social workers, with only 10 percent exceptional applicants from other human services fields.
- Secondary traumatic stress (STS) and burnout—The symptoms of STS often mirror the symptoms of stress exhibited by direct victims of trauma. Child welfare caseworkers are more likely to experience these symptoms than any other behavior health professional. Recommendations to address STS and burnout include additional onsite wellness supports that are integrated into day-to-day program work, such as decompression rooms and onsite counselors.
- Supportive supervision—As a result of the high turnover rate among CPS caseworkers, CPS is often left with no other option than to promote employees with as little as 2 years of experience into the role of supervisor. This can lead to increased stress among both workers and supervisors. Recommendations to address promoting inexperienced workers to a supervisory role include addressing and finding solutions to the previously described four challenges, which would reduce employee turnover and allow CPS to retain employees long enough to form a solid and experienced management pool.
The complete report, Child Protective Services Workforce Analysis and Recommendations, is available at http://texprotects.org/media/uploads/improving_the_protection_of_texas_children_workforce_analysis._january_2017_final_release.pdf (1,630 KB).