But something new is happening here in Hamilton County and around the nation. Frontline worker turnover rates are climbing. I speak with urban child welfare leaders around the country and everyone seems to be struggling with the same problem, yet no one has the answer.
In Hamilton County, we were very fortunate for years to have a turnover rate hovering around 20 percent. We are seeing rates twice that over the past few years. Nationally, studies have found that turnover among child welfare workers is six times that of other industries. A recent report by the Public Children Service Association of Ohio found that one out of every seven Ohio child welfare workers left their jobs in 2016.
The factors? Certainly the high and complex caseloads associated with substance abuse, untreated mental health, domestic violence, poverty and other social issues have played a part. The secondary trauma of such difficult and complex cases leads some workers to leave, too. And, an improving economy has opened up the market to jobs that pay more and are certainly less stressful.
We have taken steps to address this challenge. We have formed partnerships with the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University to encourage a more qualified and prepared workforce to consider Hamilton County as a post-graduate employment opportunity. We also have improved our onboarding process for new employees and increased the amount of support and training they will receive.
Our latest effort is to become a pilot county for a four-year, national study designed to address challenges with child welfare worker recruitment, retention, satisfaction and intention to stay. The national study, led by the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development, will work to truly understand workforce needs and ultimately test and implement creative workforce interventions that support caseworkers. A broad scope of information will be examined, including work arrangements, demographics, organizational culture and work attitudes.
We consider workforce recruitment and retention such an important challenge, we applied to be a part of this study on our own. The researchers decided to go with mostly states – Ohio, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Washington joined Milwaukee and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. But, Ohio quickly made us one of eight pilot counties – and the only major metropolitan county – to participate.
The Quality Improvement Center, led by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was established in 2016 and is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau. We are extremely hopeful that this group of talented researchers will help us develop a comprehensive, proven strategy to recruit and retain a highly qualified workforce.
We are focused on appropriately engaging a growing number of children and families in Hamilton County. To do that, we need the best workforce possible. We must be open to try creative strategies that help us attract the best possible staff.
I started my career 25 years ago as a child welfare worker. The work is rewarding and challenging. You change lives daily and can be the key to keeping families together. You can help parents overcome obstacles and develop protective capacities to keep their children safe without intervention. You can make families prosper with the right intervention at the right time. No more, no less.
But the work today is tougher than I ever experienced. The trauma our workers see and experience can be devastating. Every decision they make is second guessed and they face the daily challenge of assessing a parent’s protective capacity. If we make a mistake on our assessment, a child may suffer. That is a pain none of us will ever forget.
I certainly understand the decision to look for less stressful work. As the leader of this organization, I take responsibility for finding ways to be as supportive as possible so that the rewarding moments they experience on the job outweigh the challenges. If that happens, hopefully they will choose to stay longer. I certainly made that choice and have never looked back!