This issue of CBX highlights child welfare workforce development. Read a message from Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg about the importance of recruiting a diverse and culturally and linguistically competent workforce. This issue also includes the latest resources and tools for child welfare professionals and the families they serve.
- Diversity Is America's Greatest Gift, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg
Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg
One of the many things I love about this country is the diversity of the people who live here. There are people here who are indigenous to the vast lands we occupy; there are people whose ancestors were captured, enslaved, and brought here against their will; there are those who came here from abroad with all of the hope that comes with the promise of America; and, of course, there are those who are still arriving in search of that promise. Our ancestral journeys vary, yet here we are, most of us trying to live harmoniously. The diversity of these United States is unsurpassed. Our lives are enhanced and sometimes forever changed by the privilege of being in a position to visit with, listen to, and learn from people who are different from ourselves, who have distinctly different experiences. This might be America’s greatest gift. However, the recent ruling from our nation’s highest court regarding affirmative action threatens and calls into question the benefits of the richness of our diverse society.
Have you ever been the only Black person or White person in a room? Or the only Spanish-speaking person? Have you been the only person with a physical disability—visible or invisible? Have you ever walked into a situation and wished for diversity? Alternatively, have you ever been in a room and experienced the value of it? I have.
In 2021, we invited all staff at the Administration for Children and Families to be trained in a race equity impact analysis tool. This tool consists of five questions to ask when using an equity lens to make an assessment. The first question is “Is there a diverse group of people at the table making the decision?” I can recall many times throughout my career when the answer to that question was a firm “no,” and when “no” is the answer, a failure has occurred. I’m reminded of a time when I was working as a legislative attorney in New York City and there was a proposal to legislate certain aspects of the use of electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards. My colleagues were discussing what to include in the bill, yet only one of my colleagues had ever used an EBT card. She knew that hot food was not an allowable purchase with an EBT card. This was game-changing information for the proposal. Her journey, and her diverse life experience, was essential to the ultimate outcome, which could have impacted over a million people.
Diversity in our classrooms is paramount because diversity in our workforce is critical. Arguably, for certain professions, the classroom is the main pipeline to the profession. In our profession, the commitment to support vulnerable children and families must be matched with a commitment to intentionally recruit a diverse workforce. Ideally, our workforce would mirror the diversity of the families we serve, who are multifaceted and possess varied identities. This is true even now, when the ability to attract and recruit professionals to do this work has reached a nadir due in part to a pandemic-related paradigm shift in workforce culture and expectations. Our responsibility to recruit a diverse and culturally and linguistically competent workforce must not falter.
Diversity is America’s greatest gift. Hold fast.
- The Effects of Child Welfare Workforce Turnover on Families
A brief from the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI), The Impact of Turnover on Families Involved in Child Welfare, highlights the effects of staff turnover within the child welfare system. Consisting of a list of 30 resources that analyze the topic, this brief raises awareness about the consequences of high turnover rates on families and children from an agency, community, and systems perspective. The resources provide insights for policymakers, administrators, and practitioners to address this issue.
High turnover of child welfare professionals disrupts trusting relationships, erodes stability, hampers communication, and delays crucial services. Children suffer attachment disruptions, exacerbating trauma and hindering well-being. Systemic challenges like heavy workloads and inadequate support contribute to burnout. Addressing these issues is vital for staff retention.
The brief shares key recommendations to mitigate the negative consequences of turnover. Implementing strategies that prioritize caseworker support, such as mentoring programs, peer networks, and access to mental health resources, can enhance staff well-being and job satisfaction. Improved training programs and professional development opportunities could also contribute to skill-building and retention.
Organizational changes should focus on creating a culture of stability and open communication. Enhancing collaboration between child welfare agencies, policymakers, and community stakeholders can facilitate comprehensive solutions to tackle turnover and improve outcomes for families and children. The brief states that further research and the inclusion of community voices need to occur, suggesting that such inclusion can strengthen the understanding of challenges and potential solutions. Additionally, measurement standards for this type of research need to be created.
Review the brief for more information and to explore the 30 featured resources.
- Umbrella Summaries Address Child Welfare Workforce Challenges
Written by the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development
The Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (QIC-WD) is charged with synthesizing the current state of research to build knowledge about effective strategies to improve workforce outcomes. One tool we use to share research is the Umbrella Summary. Umbrella Summaries provide a synopsis of the published meta-analyses of a specific workforce topic. With so many studies out there, why do we only pull from meta-analyses? A meta-analysis is a study that quantitatively synthesizes results across many individual studies, overcoming the inherent limitations of individual studies, to arrive at overall conclusions that are more reliable, accurate, and generalizable. Our team draws from child welfare literature as well as other professional fields such as management, business, industrial/organizational psychology, organizational behavior, applied psychology, and human resources. Our goal is to succinctly summarize research that is applicable to the child welfare workforce.
There are currently 77 Umbrella Summaries that cover a variety of topics. Information in each Umbrella Summary is presented in a question-and-answer format and includes a series of QIC-WD Take Aways that highlight the implications of the research for child welfare professionals. In addition, each summary includes a complete list of references if you’re interested in the meta-analyses that informed it. You can search our Umbrella Summaries by key word or topic. Topics include alternative work arrangements, employee attitudes, employee characteristics, employee well-being, hiring, job characteristics, onboarding, organizational context, organizational culture and climate, performance, recruitment, selection, stress and secondary trauma, supervision, training and development, and turnover.
The following Umbrella Summaries address workforce issues throughout the employee lifecycle and reflect both employer and employee roles in an organization. This is just a sample of the available Umbrella Summaries and the information below features links to additional resources that address these popular topics:
- Recruitment – Since the pandemic and the great resignation, recruitment has been a major concern for many employers. This Umbrella Summary also highlights employee fit and realistic job previews as evidence-informed strategies to attract candidates to your child welfare agency.
- Organizational Socialization – Commonly referred to as onboarding, organizational socialization is important because it is associated with several workforce outcomes such as job satisfaction and intentions to quit. The QIC-WD recently did a webinar on this topic and shared tips on what supervisors can do to support new employees.
- Perceived Organizational Support (POS) – It is important for employers to convey commitment to their employees, especially in child welfare agencies where the job is complex and the workload can be taxing. POS is important because it is associated with many job attitudes and behaviors and organizational citizenship behaviors.
- Employee Engagement – This is a strong predictor of job performance and the research bears some resemblance to thriving in the literature. There are scales and interventions to assess and address employee engagement that child welfare workforce leaders can use.
The QIC-WD continues to produce Umbrella Summaries and feature them in our other materials to leverage research from other fields for child welfare professionals. Our goal is to create a series of digestible resources that inform decision-making and increase access to evidence for those involved in managing the child welfare workforce.
- Addressing Moral Injury in Child Welfare
In the AdoptUSKids’ article “Addressing Moral Injury in Our Profession,” senior child protection program manager Michelle Seymore explains the ethical dilemma she felt threatened her career and how her work with the Minority Professional Leadership Development (MPLD) program at AdoptUSKids helped her address the challenge head on to her benefit—and that of the child welfare system, child welfare professionals, and the children and families they serve.
Moral injury is defined as "the psychological damage that is caused when an individual is put in a position of representing policies and taking actions that conflict with their moral code." This is the feeling Seymore came to realize she was experiencing as a child welfare professional working and living in Hennepin County, MN, when unrest exploded following the death of George Floyd.
She noted, “I was struggling for a way to stay in child welfare and feel good about it. I felt committed to the work. But I also felt conflicted between being a member of a marginalized community that has historically experienced poor outcomes from government service and being a professional implementing the rules and protocols of that system.”
Seymore believed that others shared this feeling and that it could be negatively contributing to workforce turnover and retention, so she joined the MPLD fellowship with the hope that she could gain insight and empower herself and others to confidently recommit to working in child welfare.
In her work with MPLD, Seymore conducted a research project to explore how policies that perpetuate disparities impact how long people stay in child welfare. She posited that “agencies look at data about turnover and attribute it to high caseloads and low pay, but the reality is that workers don’t feel empowered to make ethical decisions.” A survey of current staff at Hennepin County revealed that, like Seymore, moral conflict caused much of the anxiety they were also experiencing and that they were relieved to learn that moral injury was a real thing, experienced by many workers in helping professions.
Following the project and her time with MPLD, Seymore developed a three-step framework and training to help organizations address and mitigate moral injury, increase staff retention, and improve outcomes for youth and families. The framework is based on the following guidance:
- Be aware of moral injury—what it is and why it happens. Acknowledge that the system is putting workers in a situation that violates their moral code and that, as a result, they are leaving child welfare.
- Remove the blame from the workforce by creating a framework for decision-making that allows ethical decisions to be made and a system that views children and families through a safety lens, not a dominant-culture lens.
- Bring attention to the policies, practices, statutes, and laws that contribute to moral injury. Be open about how culture, religion, and environmental norms play into how we judge other people’s actions.
- Caseload and Workload Management
Child Welfare Information Gateway published an issue brief, Caseload and Workload Management, which offers valuable insights into the principles, strategies, and best practices for managing caseload and workload situations. Reducing and managing caseloads and workloads are challenging tasks for a variety of reasons. However, reasonable caseloads and workloads are vital to a caseworker's ability to effectively serve families and avoid burnout.
Manageable caseloads and workloads contribute to higher engagement and better outcomes for children and families. Other benefits for agencies and workers include the following:
- Improving caseworker retention
- Supporting caseworker attitudes and well-being
- Improving Child and Family Services Reviews performance
- Complying with legislation and litigation
The brief provides information on assessing caseloads and workloads. Time studies, for example, can help agencies compare the amount of available time to the amount of time spent completing casework. The results of these and other studies can include justifications for funding requests and the adoption of workload-centered standards.
The brief emphasizes the need for ongoing evaluation and continuous improvement of caseload management, as well as the importance of data collection to inform decision-making. Suggestions for staff retention include mentoring, flex time, and reward programs. Recommended strategies for improving caseload and workload management fall into four categories: enhancing work processes and supports, prevention and permanency initiatives, staffing strategies, and improving caseworker effectiveness.
For more details and additional resources, access the full brief.
Spotlight on Creating a More Equitable Child Welfare System
Spotlight on Child and Family Services Review, Round 4
News From the Children's Bureau
In this section, find the latest news, resources, and publications from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, and other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as a listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.
- Workforce Celebration Event Scheduled for September
Written by the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute
Every September since 2017, the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI), a service of the Children’s Bureau, celebrates the diverse professionals who work to ensure the well-being of families involved with the child welfare system. National Child Welfare Workforce Development Month is an opportunity for child welfare professionals to celebrate their achievements and connect with colleagues, for child welfare leaders to focus on how to support and recognize their workforce, for social work students to learn about child welfare practice, and for social work programs and faculty to refresh their child welfare curriculum with the latest resources.
This year’s Child Welfare Worker Appreciation Week is September 11 to September 15, 2023. It will include a 1-hour virtual recognition event cohosted by NCWWI and the Children’s Bureau on Tuesday, September 12, at 3:00 p.m. ET. This event is about taking a moment for you and your team…to breathe, to celebrate, to connect…to take care of yourself. We can’t wait to find out how you decide to take a moment! Registration is now open.
Visit the NCWWI website for this year’s recognition event kit, including templates, graphics, and registration information. You do so much for others, so we hope you’ll join in and encourage those around you to do the same.
- Registration Is Open for the 2023 Child Welfare Virtual Expo
Registration is now open for the Children’s Bureau’s Capacity Building Center for State’s 2023 Child Welfare Virtual Expo (CWVE), scheduled for Thursday, September 21, 2023. The theme of this year’s CWVE is "Recruit, Retain, and Support: Strategies for Strengthening the Child Welfare Workforce."
The 1-day virtual event brings together professionals from federal, state, tribal, and local organizations across the country and experts with lived experience, young people, families, and other partners to discuss how child welfare agencies are addressing today’s child welfare workforce challenges and the innovations they are implementing to recruit, retain, and support a diverse child welfare workforce and create an equitable workplace.
- New ACF Office Prioritizes Domestic Violence Prevention
In response to the public health crisis that is domestic and intimate partner violence, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced the creation of a new office charged with leading the agency's comprehensive approach to domestic violence prevention and administering the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA).
The newly established Office of Family Violence Prevention and Services (OFVPS) provides FVPSA funding to communities to address and prevent domestic violence, strengthen and expand community-based services, increase supports for adult and child survivors, and elevate public awareness efforts.
At the federal level, OFVPS serves as advisor to all senior leaders in ACF and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and it works closely with the Office of Trafficking in Persons and others across HHS to provide equitable trauma-informed assistance for adults, children, and youth.
To learn more, such as how the creation of new office precipitated the realignment of ACF programs and what OFVPS' goal priorities entail, visit the OFVPS website and read HHS’ press release and "Ushering in Meaningful Change for Survivors and Introducing ACF's New Office of Family Violence Prevention and Services" in ACF's The Family Room Blog.
- CB Website Updates
The Children's Bureau website hosts information on child welfare programs, funding, monitoring, training and technical assistance, laws, statistics, research, federal reporting, and much more.
Recent additions or updates to the site include the following:
- Frequently Asked Questions:
- Are interventions limited to serving children, or can they also serve foster parents and other caregivers?
- Can our organization serve as the fiscal agent to a nonprofit partner agency that is interested in applying for this grant?
- Can you tell me how many applicants have submitted letters of intent?
- Do interventions need to be evidence based?
- How are complex needs defined?
- How do I apply for this funding opportunity?
- How do I submit a letter of intent?
- Is the 15-percent evaluation requirement calculated from the total project budget or just the direct costs?
- Is the award ceiling $1,000,000 over 36 months or $1,000,000 per year for 36 months?
- Is there a suggested page length for the Project Narrative?
- Is this funding opportunity open to public and state institutions of higher education?
- Is this grant project for a specific region?
- We have some preliminary questions about the NOFO. Can we set up a call to discuss?
- Would it be possible to receive copies of successful past proposals to review?
- HHS-2023-ACF-ACYF-CA-0020: Field-Initiated Approach to Addressing Racial Bias and Inequity in Child Welfare
- HHS-2023-ACF-ACYF-CT-0012: The National Child Welfare Workforce Institute
- PI-23-09: Supplemental Disaster Relief Funding Available Under Title IV-B, Subpart 1 of the Act
- Round 4 of the CFSRs [Webpage update]
- Title IV-B Guide: Navigating Federal Child Welfare Services Funding from the Children’s Bureau
- Tribal Title IV-B Supports [Webpage update]
Visit the Children's Bureau website often to see what's new.
- Frequently Asked Questions:
This section features resources and updates from the Children's Bureau's technical assistance partners to support practices and systems that improve the lives of children and families.
- Virtual Child Welfare Training: Embracing the Benefits and Challenges
The COVID-19 pandemic forced child welfare offices and training centers to transition to virtual platforms. An article from the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (QIC-WD) explores the potential of virtual training and its impact on the child welfare system. "Virtual Training in Child Welfare" shares the experiences of training teams and lessons to incorporate when setting up virtual training.
The article emphasizes how virtual training has expanded access to high-quality professional development resources. Training teams and managers had to learn new technologies and techniques to keep learners engaged. Virtual training also fosters collaboration and networking by connecting practitioners from different locations, encouraging the exchange of ideas and best practices. Additionally, virtual training ensures consistency and standardization in content delivery, guaranteeing that more professionals can receive the same high-quality training regardless of their location.
While virtual training offers significant benefits, the article also acknowledges its associated challenges. Technical issues, such as connectivity problems or limited access to reliable internet, can impede the effectiveness of virtual training. Moreover, maintaining engagement and interactivity in a virtual setting requires intentional design and facilitation. The article emphasizes the importance of ongoing evaluation and improvement to optimize the virtual training experience.
Virtual training has emerged as a transformative tool for professional growth within the child welfare system. Moving forward, training managers are embracing a model that blends virtual and in-person training. While challenges exist, ongoing evaluation and improvement can address these concerns and ensure the continued success of virtual training initiatives.
Read the full article for links to resources and additional information about researching, evaluating, and designing virtual child welfare trainings.
- More CB Training and Technical Assistance Updates
The Children's Bureau funds several technical assistance centers to provide professionals with tools to better serve children, youth, and families. The following are some of the latest resources from these partners.
Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Cross-System Collaboration to Support Youth Involved With Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice [Webpage update]
- Protecting the Rights and Providing Appropriate Services to LGBTQIA2S+ Youth in Out-of-Home Care
Visit the Information Gateway website for more.
Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative
- Center for Courts
- Center for States
- Center for Tribes Tribal Information Exchange
Visit the Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative website for more.
Children's Bureau Learning and Coordination Center (CBLCC)
- “The Science and Practice of Self-Regulation” [Video]
- The Science and Practice of Self-Regulation [Presentation slides]
- Social Media Resources for LGBTQIA2S+ Pride Month
Visit the CBLCC website for more.
FRIENDS National Resource Center
- 2023 CBCAP Around the U.S. [Video]
- Family Resource Discussion Series, “Session 2: Collaboration and Expansion” [Webinar recording]
- Spring 2023 Parents & Practitioners Newsletter
Visit the FRIENDS National Resource Center website for more.
National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW)
- Engaging Parents and Youth with Lived Experience: Strengthening Collaborative Policy and Practice Initiatives for Families With Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
Visit the NCSACW website for more.
National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI)
- Measuring Child Welfare Workers Physiological Stress
- Registration Is Open for the Child Welfare Worker Recognition Event
Visit the NCWWI website for more.
National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (NDACAN)
- AFCARS Foster Care File, 6-month periods (FY2016A - 2022B) [Dataset]
- Spring 2023 issue of The NDACAN Updata
Visit the NDACAN website for more.
Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency (QIC-EY)
- QIC-EY Lessons Learned #2: Leaders Set the Tone for Building Relationships That Drive Authentic Engagement of Children and Youth
Visit the QIC-EY website for more.
Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (QIC-WD)
- QIC-Tip: Job Posting
- QIC-Tip: Measuring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Child Welfare Workforce
Visit the QIC-WD website for more.
- “What Does Permanency Mean to Me?” [Blog post]
Visit the AdoptUSKids website for more.
James Bell Associates
- Continuous Quality Improvement Change Packages
- Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation in Home Visiting
Visit the James Bell Associates website for more.
In this section, we highlight recent studies, literature reviews, and other research on child welfare topics.
- Hope and Resilience Can Lower Burnout Among Child Welfare Workers
Burnout among child welfare professionals is a major concern for many child welfare agencies. Despite the widely accepted notion that a stable workforce results in improved outcomes and service delivery for families, many workers experience burnout and stress, which leads to high turnover rates and an unstable workforce.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the Hope Research Center at the University of Oklahoma School of Social Work investigates hope and resilience as protective factors to prevent burnout. The study, “Hope and Resilience as Protective Factors Linked to Lower Burnout Among Child Welfare Workers,” was published in Children and Youth Services Review in 2022.
Researchers acknowledge that resilience is commonly cited as a buffer to burnout, while hope is less frequently referenced in child welfare research. The study defines resilience as “the ability to bounce back after encountering obstacles” and hope as “a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful agency…and pathways.”
The study is the first of its kind to test the roles of hope and resilience in reducing burnout among child welfare workers. It involved collecting surveys from 1,272 state child welfare employees in Oklahoma via email. Most employees were either caseworkers who work directly with families or supervisors. Hope, resilience, and burnout were all measured using preexisting scales: hope on the Adult Hope Scale, resilience on the Brief Resilience Scale, and burnout on the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory.
The results indicate that both hope and resilience are negatively associated with burnout, with hope more strongly correlating with lower burnout. The findings have several implications for child welfare professionals, policymakers, and researchers and can be used to guide efforts to develop interventions to help child welfare professionals cope with burnout.
- Reducing Workforce Turnover: State Child Welfare Leaders Share Concerns and Strategies
The child welfare system and related professions continue to face a personnel crisis. These professions have struggled to recruit and retain workers, which compounds workload issues. State child welfare leaders are experimenting with different strategies to retain the workers they already have and increase the number of candidates in the pipeline. A recent blog post by the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (QIC-WD), "Child Welfare Workforce Crisis – What We're Hearing from the Field," sheds light on the challenges and perspectives shared by state child welfare and human resources leaders.
The post addresses several critical issues affecting the child welfare workforce. High caseloads and staff turnover emerge as persistent concerns, leading to increased burnout and decreased job satisfaction. Professionals stressed the urgent need for manageable caseloads and supportive work environments prioritizing staff well-being. Another key concern is the scarcity of resources and its impact on service provision. Some states reported that increased compensation for workers was effective but needed to be evaluated or coupled with other strategies to be a long-term solution.
The post also highlights innovative practices states are implementing to address the workforce crisis. The hope is that these new strategies, such as mentoring programs, onsite therapy to address secondary traumatic stress, and streamlined recruitment efforts, will create positive impacts to help support and retain child welfare professionals.
Read the full article for more information on states' strategies and efforts to improve recruitment and retention.
- Survey Analyzes Public Opinion of Social Workers
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the NASW Foundation partnered with Ipsos to conduct a survey on the public opinion of social workers. Of the 1,016 adult American respondents, 80 percent had a favorable opinion of social workers.
The following are other key findings:
- One in six Americans say they or a member of their immediate family have been helped by a social worker, and a majority of those helped by social workers say their situation was at least somewhat improved.
- Many people are unaware that social workers work in a variety of settings outside of social services, child welfare, mental health, and substance use.
- Few Americans know that social workers can work in potentially dangerous settings.
- A strong majority of Americans would support a bill that would provide agencies with a grant to help improve the safety of social workers.
- More than half of respondents said social workers should be paid more than the median pay of $50,390 a year.
The survey was conducted using a program called KnowledgePanel. NASW encourages professionals to share the results on social media and in editorials, presentations, legislative visits, community events, and media interviews. A press release about the survey, an executive summary, and social media cards are available on the NASW website.
This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.
- Rethinking Child Welfare Recruitment
The National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) published a brief outlining strategies and recommendations to help recruit child welfare professionals. Rethinking Child Welfare Recruitment emphasizes the urgent need for innovative and targeted approaches to recruitment to ensure the delivery of high-quality services to vulnerable children and families. The brief suggests a holistic approach to recruitment and retention that focuses not only on racial equity and inclusivity but also on organizational culture.
The brief highlights a set of practical recommendations for effective recruitment practices. One key strategy involves developing partnerships with colleges, universities, and community organizations to create pathways for individuals interested in child welfare careers. By forging these alliances, agencies can tap into a pool of passionate individuals eager to make a positive impact.
Another important aspect highlighted is the need for agencies to promote diversity and inclusivity in their recruitment efforts. By actively engaging with underrepresented communities and tailoring outreach efforts to resonate with diverse populations, agencies can foster a workforce that reflects the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the families they serve.
Furthermore, the brief emphasizes the importance of highlighting the rewarding nature of child welfare work. By showcasing success stories and illustrating the positive impact of the profession, agencies can inspire and attract individuals who possess the compassion and dedication necessary for this vital work.
The brief provides agencies with a strategic roadmap to overcome recruitment challenges and build a resilient workforce. By implementing the outlined recommendations, child welfare agencies can attract talented individuals who will contribute to positive change, ensuring the well-being and safety of vulnerable children and families for years to come.
- Stressed About Employee Stress? Three Ways to Support Child Welfare Worker Retention
Written by Katie Biron and the Capacity Building Center for States
Child welfare work can be incredibly rewarding and energizing, but the nature of the work makes it stressful, too. Staff usually drop into the lives of families during a crisis and must find a way to partner with them to implement the supports and services they need. They do this work while adhering to federal, court, and agency timelines and guidelines; interfacing with other complex systems; and finding time to document the work. There are additional layers of complexity and stress for staff with lived experience and staff members of color due to the increased risk that they will experience secondary trauma. In fact, the stress and emotional toll of child welfare work contributed to a median turnover rate for frontline caseworkers of 22 percent between 2005 and 2015 (Paul et al., 2022).
The following strategies can help agency leaders, managers, and supervisors reduce the effect of stressors on staff at all levels of the agency and potentially decrease child welfare worker turnover in their jurisdictions.
Address Secondary Trauma
Child welfare staff need support to process secondary trauma and opportunities to grieve the impact of the tragic family separation, abuse, and neglect they encounter in their work. By instituting policies and practices around self-care, agencies can do the following:
- Acknowledge that secondary trauma and moral injury (psychological, spiritual, and social harm caused by one’s own or another’s actions) are inherent components of this work, and many staff begin working in child welfare soon after graduation and may not fully grasp or be able to recognize the signs of secondary trauma. The ability to process difficult emotions is essential both before hire and on a regular basis afterward.
- Assist staff with developing the skills needed to address secondary trauma by creating regular opportunities for peer support. For example, learning circles or group coaching can be used to raise awareness around, prevent, and mitigate secondary trauma.
- Elevate the expertise of those who demonstrate effective self-care techniques to coach, mentor, or lead a class. Encourage new workers to begin attending these peer support groups before carrying a caseload.
- Initiate employee assistance programs, which may include counseling and proactive services, such as training and educational programs on topics like stress management, resilience building, and self-care. Employee assistance programs can help child welfare workers develop skills to prevent or effectively address potential challenges before they escalate.
Nurture All Partnerships
Create a culture that values strong relationships with families and system partners. Investing time to support relationships can help mitigate secondary trauma and lessen staff turnover (Paul, 2020). While building partnerships with system partners may take more time initially, that investment pays off when partners are able to offer additional education and support for families, young people, and children instead of relying on the worker to be the sole source of this support. The following strategies can support relationship building among agency staff as well as with families, communities, and other service providers:
- Incorporate structured icebreakers in initial meetings between parents and caregivers so they can meet one another on a more personal level and set up a supportive relationship from the start.
- Integrate parent-to-parent peer support partnerships where veteran parents can share their experience and skills to help parents entering the child welfare system navigate services and better understand agency expectations, as well as provide encouragement that reunification is possible.
- Support strong interprofessional collaboration with court partners to promote information sharing and common goals to reduce barriers and conflicts and lessen the stress of everyday work (Gibbs et al., in press).
- Ensure regular communication with community partners and service providers so that new workers are aware of the community resources available to parents, young people, and caregivers.
- Include the entire family (i.e., young people, parents, and extended family) in all case planning and decision-making that supports families in creating safety in the home and preventing separation.
- Build professional relationships with lived experience experts and those from diverse backgrounds, both on staff and those working with the agency, so they may offer perspective and support to families and young people currently in child welfare, as well as staff members.
Reframe Family Engagement
“Reframing family engagement” means prioritizing the decisions made by families and partnering with them as equals in all interactions. Families are the experts in determining what is best for themselves and their children. This way of thinking about family engagement can help minimize potentially negative interactions with families. The following strategies can help staff reframe their engagement with young people and families to work with them in more positive ways:
- Encourage staff to explore their own biases or beliefs, such as “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and ensure those biases are checked when working with families and young people.
- Use a collaborative, coaching approach with staff to model the value of cocreating plans for growth, and support staff working alongside families to codevelop case plans rather than developing case plans for them.
- Implement a strengths-based approach. Ask: What has worked well in the past when the family navigated a crisis? What support is available to the family? What does the family say they need to weather this crisis?
- Coach staff to work with parents, children, and young people through the lens of traumatic events and adverse childhood experiences. Help staff develop the skillset needed to look beyond an individual's behaviors and use a lens of curiosity to uncover the underlying fears or trauma leading to these actions.
- Ask all partners (e.g., parents, caregivers, extended family members, judicial partners, community partners, and others) to continually consider, “What can we do to ease the trauma on the child?”
Recognizing the secondary trauma and moral injury caused by child welfare work, cultivating partnerships, and developing a strengths-based mindset toward parents can help child welfare staff develop healthy self-care techniques and promote inclusive engagement practices with families, young people, communities, and other service providers.
This year’s Child Welfare Virtual Expo, “Recruit, Retain, and Support: Strategies for Strengthening the Child Welfare Workforce,” will take place on September 21. For more information, visit https://capacity.childwelfare.gov/virtualexpo.
The following resources can help agencies support a healthy workforce and reduce worker stress:
- Becoming a Family-Focused System
- Coaching in Child Welfare
- Fostering a Healthy Workforce: Child Welfare Virtual Expo (CWVE) 2018
- Quality Matters: Improving Caseworker Contacts With Children, Youth, and Families
- Strengthening Families Through Prevention and Collaboration: Child Welfare Virtual Expo (CWVE) 2020
Gibbs, D. J., Phillips, J. D., & Villagrana, K. M. (in press). Stress, satisfaction, and turnover among child welfare workers: Examining associations with quality of interprofessional collaboration. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research. https://doi.org/10.1086/724586
Paul, M. (2020). Umbrella summary: Thriving. Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development. https://www.qic-wd.org/umbrella-summary/thriving
Paul, M., Harrison, C., Litt, J., & Graef, M. (2022). Worker turnover is a persistent child welfare challenge - So is measuring it. Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development. https://www.qic-wd.org/qic-take/worker-turnover-persistent-child-welfare-challenge
- Webinar Provides Strategies for Child Welfare Supervisors Onboarding New Workers
Recruiting and retaining qualified and committed child welfare workers is a challenge for many agencies. One factor that can improve retention is adequate support from supervisors and leadership. To aid in these efforts, the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (QIC-WD) held a webinar designed to help child welfare supervisors support new workers.
“Supporting New Workers: Evidence-Informed Strategies for Those in Supervisory Roles” presents a research-based, general framework of best practices for onboarding new employees and includes practice examples from the QIC-WD’s work in jurisdictions. The onboarding framework, created by Talya Bauer, focuses on five Cs:
- Compliance: Comply with agency rules and requirements for new employees.
- Clarification: Clarify roles and expectations.
- Confidence: Use strategies to boost new employee confidence.
- Connections: Help new employees build meaningful connections.
- Culture: Help new employees understand the agency’s values, beliefs, norms, and behaviors.
The webinar, recorded in December 2022, is free to access on the QIC-WD website and is just under 1 hour long. Funded by the Children’s Bureau, the QIC-WD is a project designed to synthesize trends and research about the child welfare workforce and generate knowledge about strategies to improve workforce outcomes.
- National Initiative Provides Strategies to Support Kin Caregivers
To address the well-being of family caregivers, the Administration for Community Living released the 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers. The strategy includes nearly 500 actions to implement across public and private sectors to connect family caregivers with the support they need.
The actions are designed to provide family caregivers with support and resources so that they can provide care without jeopardizing their own financial, emotional, and physical stability. This includes ensuring family caregivers feel recognized, assisted, included, supported, and engaged. The strategy is built on the following goals:
- Align federal, state, tribal, and local responses to caregiver challenges.
- Foster collaborations within and across stakeholder groups.
- Optimize existing family caregiver support efforts by reducing redundancy, improving information sharing, and infusing best practices systemwide.
- Prioritize efforts to advance equity for unserved and underserved populations of caregivers.
- Ensure that all efforts to uplift caregivers are person centered and family centered, trauma informed, and culturally competent.
The strategy was developed by two councils formed in 2019: the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage Act Family Caregiving Advisory Council and the Advisory Council to Support Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, in partnership with family caregivers with lived experience. The actions in the strategy are designed to assist both relatives caring for children and relatives caring for dependent adults with health conditions, disabilities, or functional limitations.
More information, including details on the various recommended actions that federal, state, and other organizations can take to support caregivers, is available in the full report.
- Assessing the Cultural Responsiveness of Support Services
Providing culturally appropriate and responsive services to families from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds is vital to supporting children and youth in child welfare. However, child welfare systems have historically failed to meet the needs of families of color and other marginalized communities. To help agencies assess the cultural competence of their services and how their programs and policies may affect children and families of color, AdoptUSKids created an assessment tool for service providers.
The tool is designed to help service providers reflect on how they engage and support parents of color to identify areas for improvement. Its goal is to help agencies and other organizations build more culturally responsive support services.
The assessment contains multiple fillable forms with prompts about families served, staff, training, organization environment and community, and service design with rating scales of “excellent,” “satisfactory,” and “needs work.”
The tool includes recommendations for preparing for the assessment, including videos and resources about unconscious bias. Recommendations for preparing and starting the discussion include gathering a team, noticing who is at the table, considering power dynamics, accounting for different communication styles and accessibility needs, making plans for handling disagreements, and thinking about handling hard feelings.
Once a team has completed the assessment, the tool has a section for understanding results. Depending on those results, there are several recommended actions organizations can take to work toward meaningful change, including the following:
- Determine what goals you can take action on immediately, in the near term, and in the long term.
- Create workgroups to address goals.
- Collect better data.
- Learn from others.
- Get capacity-building support.
Assessing the Racial and Ethnic Cultural Competence of Your Support Services is available on the AdoptUSKids website.
This section of CBX presents interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials, that can be used in the field or with families.
- Social Media Campaign for Teens Promotes Healthy Decision-Making
We Think Twice (WTT) is a youth-centered social media campaign designed with teens for teens, ages 13–19, that empowers youth to make healthy decisions, live well, be their best selves, and transition successfully to adulthood. The award-winning campaign’s digital content is created to be engaging and relatable to a teen audience and is available in a variety of formats, including videos, quizzes, guides, planners, real-life stories, artwork, and more. A broad collection of resources and tools covers topics such as the following:
- Mental health
- Physical health
- Resisting peer pressure and making smart choices
- Setting and reaching goals
- Money management
Several topics include a Find Help section that links to helplines and hotlines such as those specific to dating abuse and relationship safety, sexual assault, mental health concerns, and substance use and addiction.
WTT also developed resources for youth-serving professionals designed to help youth form healthy relationships, set goals, and feel confident in their decision-making.
The campaign is funded by the Administration for Children and Families’ Family and Youth Services Bureau and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, with research, design, and implementation support from RTI International.
To learn more and for links to the campaign’s social media platforms, explore the WTT website.
- Infographic Elevates Self-Care in Social Work
How to Flourish in Social Work, a colorful infographic for caseworkers created by the University of Buffalo School of Social Work, provides information and tips for supporting and preserving workers’ health, happiness, relationships, and career. The image presents information on burnout, compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and steps to self-care (with supporting data).
The infographic is part of the University of Buffalo School of Social Work's Self-Care Starter Kit, which includes resources intended for both social work students and child-serving and related “helping” professionals.
Find trainings, workshops, webinars, and other opportunities for professionals and families to learn about how to improve the lives of children and youth as well as a listing of upcoming events and conferences.
Upcoming conferences and events on child welfare and adoption include the following:
- 22nd Annual National Tribal Child Support Association Training Conference
Capacity Building Center for Tribes
Green Bay, WI, July 9–13
- FFTA 37th Annual Conference
Family Focused Treatment Association (FFTA)
Columbus, OH, July 10–13
- "Data Matters: Leveraging Research to Inform and Evaluate Youth Needs in a Hotline Environment" [Webinar]
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, Children’s Bureau, and Child Welfare Information Gateway
Virtual, July 19
- Safe Kids Worldwide Childhood Injury Prevention Convention
Safe Kids Worldwide
National Harbor, MD, July 23–26
- Generations United 2023 Global Intergenerational Conference
Washington, DC, July 26–28
- "Using the Family First Prevention Services Act to Create a Diverse Array of Prevention Strategies" [Webinar]
Prevent Child Abuse America and American Public Human Services Association
Virtual, August 8
- 46th National Child Welfare Law Conference
National Association of Counsel for Children
Minneapolis, MN, August 10–12
- 2023 Prevent Child Abuse America National Conference
Prevent Child Abuse America
Baltimore, MD, August 22–24
- "It's Complicated: Providing High Quality Support Services to Youth through Digital Interactions" [Webinar]
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, Children’s Bureau, and Child Welfare Information Gateway
Virtual, August 23
- 2023 Drug Endangered Children Conference
National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children
Kansas City, MO, August 29–31
- Child Welfare Worker Recognition Event 2023
National Child Welfare Workforce Institute and the Children's Bureau
Virtual, September 12
- Georgia's 2023 Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect
Prevent Child Abuse Georgia
Peachtree City, GA, September 14
- ZERO TO THREE LEARN Conference 2023
ZERO TO THREE
Minneapolis, MN, September 19–20
- 46th National Child Welfare Law Conference
National Association of Counsel for Children
Virtual, September 20–22
- 2023 Child Welfare Virtual Expo
Capacity Building Center for States
Virtual, September 21
- 22nd Annual National Tribal Child Support Association Training Conference
- Free Training Explores Moral Injury
A free training from the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW) at the University of Minnesota (UMN) focuses on the increasingly recognized concept of moral injury, which is the psychological damage that is caused to one’s conscience or moral compass when that individual is put in a position of representing policies and taking actions that transgress—or conflict—with their moral code.
“Moral Injury and Healing in Child Welfare” is a free, self-paced course consisting of five learning modules that discuss moral injury—what it is, its history, its relationship to trauma, its intersection with child welfare, how culture can shape its experience, pathways to healing, and more. Each section includes a short video lecture, review materials, and quiz. A certificate of completion and three continuing education hours are available upon successful completion of the training.
The course was developed by the UMN School of Social Work and is available to the public on the CASCW website.