We all struggle with worker retention. We all are facing a heroin epidemic. We all have experienced tragic deaths of children. We all are concerned about agency culture. We all have high vacancy rates and are worried about the recruitment, hiring and retention of workers.
None of this is surprising. I read many of the news stories from around the nation about child welfare systems, tragic cases, overworked caseworkers and more. Still, it was great to get together with some of the top minds in our field and discuss solutions to all of these issues.
Certainly no one has the secret for success, and these problems won’t disappear overnight, but an open dialogue with people who have to address these issues on a daily basis is helpful as Hamilton County continues to move forward.
Earlier this year, I was invited to join the Urban Child Welfare Leaders Group, hosted by Casey Family Programs. The group meets twice a year and, along with my invitation, a meeting was scheduled in Cincinnati.
Casey Family Programs has long been a leader in the child welfare area. It is the largest foundation based solely on safely reducing the number of children in foster care and building strong families. Our agency has been involved in Casey programs for more than two decades.
The Urban Child Welfare Leaders Group brings together commissioners or directors of child welfare systems in some of the largest urban areas in the United States. The UCWL meeting began in 1997 and is composed of 34 members. Its mission is to provide peer networking and support for these leaders, and to help them improve the effectiveness of their organizations.
What did I learn? We discussed some of the above topics I mentioned, along with many others:
- The growing volatility of families, because of mental health, substance abuse, violence and gun violence is an ongoing concern.
- The disproportionate number of minority children in the child welfare is a problem everyone is experiencing.
- More and more agencies are moving to generic staff for flexibility and frontloading resources to the intake section of their agencies.
- Most agencies are challenged with implementing a safety model and struggling because veteran staff are used to doing child welfare in traditional ways.
- Everyone is discussing predictive analytics and how it might help identify and stop future child abuse.
- Teen placements are growing as parents increasingly struggle to deal with their child’s mental health or violence issues.
- There is a nationwide shortage of in-home, behavioral health, trauma-informed care.
- The lack of a stable work force – most directors said they can’t keep staff more than a year or two – is impacting the quality of service agencies provide.
Some of the great value that comes from these meetings is the chance to hear about innovative programs going on throughout the country, as well as the chance to bounce ideas off one another. So, while everyone is struggling with the same problems, there are improvement efforts going on in some cities that might be adaptable here in Hamilton County.
I am glad I was invited to join this group. I expect to benefit greatly, and our agency will as well.