• July/August 2008
  • Vol. 9, No. 6

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Developing Models for Workforce Recruitment and Retention

The cost of workforce turnover in the child welfare field is twofold: There is the expense of recruiting and training workers—and then doing it all over again when those workers leave after only a short time—which is a financial drain on many child welfare systems. But turnover has an additional cost in terms of the negative impact on children and families, who lose their caseworkers, and on agencies, which may experience decreased morale and increased workloads for the workers who remain.

To promote new models of workforce development, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children's Bureau funded projects in 2003 through the "Developing Models of Effective Child Welfare Staff Recruitment and Retention Training" grants. The 5-year grants were awarded to eight projects around the country that proposed to develop, test, revise, implement, evaluate, and disseminate training curricula for recruiting and retaining child welfare workers. All of the projects have the following in common:

  • Reliance on data in their assessments, surveys, and evaluations
  • Strong university-agency partnerships
  • A focus on building organizational capacity

The eight projects have used a variety of innovative strategies to focus on better recruitment of new workers, improved retention of desirable workers, and more effective training for supervisors in hiring and maintaining personnel. Some examples of their promising practices follow.

Recruitment strategies have included:

  • An emphasis on realistic job portrayal during interviews and in recruitment materials
  • Use of a video that depicts real job experiences or interviews with clients
  • Availability of a staff member who can be on call for job candidates with questions
  • A marketing approach to recruitment that includes the use of public service announcements, a logo, and a website
  • A competency-based selection process that may include candidates' completion of a realistic caseworker exercise
  • Mutual decision-making in which both the applicant and agency discuss job suitability

Retention strategies have included:

  • Surveys of worker satisfaction—and follow-up activities
  • Voluntary focus groups
  • Legal training that brings in court officials and attorneys
  • Longitudinal surveys of worker satisfaction, job mastery, and personal values
  • Development of a strategic plan, with a planning team that includes staff at all levels
  • A mentoring program in which a staff member is paired with a supervisor for 1 year
  • Development of a leadership institute

Specific activities for supervisors have included:

  • Trainings in core supervisory activities, as well as in secondary trauma
  • Training on building a mission-centered agency culture
  • Establishment of a Supervisory Academy that focuses on four levels of professional development
  • Certificate program
  • Graduate-level coursework and credit
  • Coursework on leading positive change

A number of projects have developed curricula that include workbooks and online trainings. Most of the projects currently have websites that describe their ongoing activities and offer resources. Several projects also developed courses or modules to be included in undergraduate or graduate programs in social work.

Children's Bureau representatives made site visits to all eight projects in 2006 and 2007, and Children's Bureau Express (CBX) articles about these site visits are available on this website. The following list of the eight grantees includes links to the project website (where available) and citations of the relevant CBX articles:

  • The School of Social Welfare, University at Albany, State University of New York (New York State Social Work Education Consortium)
  • The Jordan Institute for Families, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • CBX article—"Worker Recruitment and Retention Project in North Carolina" (September/October 2006)
    • Project website: http://ssw.unc.edu/jif/rr/
  • The Butler Institute for Families, University of Denver
  • Michigan State University
  • The University of Michigan
  • The Maine Child Welfare Training Institute, University of Southern Maine
  • The University of Iowa
  • Children FIRST, Fordham University
    • CBX article—"Building Management Capacity for Workforce Recruitment and Retention" (May 2007)

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