Hamilton County Job and Family Services is excited to be part of a four-year, national study designed to address challenges with child welfare worker recruitment, retention, satisfaction and intention to stay.
Work on the study will begin soon, with Children’s Services caseworkers expected to complete an important in-person survey on Feb. 5 and 6, according to Amy Story, assistant director of Strategic Operations.
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.
Being a Children’s Services caseworker is an extremely stressful job, with workers carrying complex caseloads and experiencing all the horrors of a first responder. Nationally, studies have found that turnover among child welfare workers is six times that of other industries. Hamilton County, like the rest of the state and nation, struggles to recruit and retain qualified workers.
“Our workers are so critical to our success and our work with the community. They are the backbone of Children’s Services and keeping children safe in Hamilton County,” said Moira Weir, HCJFS director. “We are honored to be part of this study. It will help us identify ways to support staff so they enjoy their jobs, feel valued, perform well and choose to stay in a job that is very rewarding – caseworkers are saving and changing lives on a daily basis.”
Weir said the agency has already made some changes to recruitment – such as establishing partnerships with the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University – onboarding (now a full day) and more training. The creative solutions that may come out of the QIC-WD partnership will build on that.
HCJFS employs about 240 caseworkers in Children’s Services. Those workers help nearly 18,000 children a year. Their work truly makes a difference in the community.
Hamilton County is joining Montgomery, Clark, Champaign, Knox, Summit, Trumbull and Wayne counties in working with QIC-WD on the national study. The 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.
Applicants competed to be selected for the study. Ohio is one of eight sites nationwide. The others: Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington, Milwaukee and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
“This was a very competitive process,” said Dr. Michelle Graef, QIC-WD director. “Ultimately, a stronger workforce with less turnover and more supportive organizational environments should improve the outcomes of the vulnerable families and children served by the child welfare system.”
Weir is hopeful.
“I participate on a national group comprised of top urban child welfare directors from across the country,” she said. “I continue to realize so many of the challenges we face in our community are occurring across the country, and child welfare recruitment and retention continues to be among the top challenges. Workers struggle with complex caseloads and the secondary trauma of working with our families and children. I am looking forward to assessing our county’s specific needs and trying new ideas and approaches.
“We will continue our goal of investing in the success of families and working with staff who are dedicated, knowledgeable and culturally competent. We will ask our supervisors to be open to changing their approach to retaining staff, since we know that supervisors are key to staff retention. We are fortunate to be a part of this project.”