Running head: Case Worker Turnover in Social Services 1
Caseworker Turnover in Social Services
CASE WORKER TURNOVER IN THE SOCIAL SERVICES 2
Case Worker Turnover In The Social Services
In this paper we are going to take a look at the current status of the social worker industry
with especially close look at child protective services; looking to see the effect of low paying
salaries, excessive hours. Seeing, how this creates high turnover. This in turn causes case overlap
unknowledgeable social workers and children’s needs that are overlooked. We start with an
example, viewing the issue from a child’s eyes.
“When you keep losing caseworkers, it affects your ability to tell who you can
and can’t trust. I should be able to trust my caseworker, but I can’t. How am I
supposed to tell who I can and can’t trust when I am out on my own? For
instance, people tell me to trust my caseworker who is supposed to be
trustworthy, but then they screw me by leaving. The same people tell me not to
trust my homies, yet they got my back no matter what.” (Strolin-Goltzman, J.,
Kollar, S., & Trinkle, J. 2010)
The Current State of Affairs
While, the above statement speaks to just one instance of a child being affected by
caseworker turnover, let’s take a moment to look at the issue at hand. Looking, first at a specific
instance we go to Texas. In the 2012 Texas state budget audit for personnel lose in government
jobs the senate committee brought up an issue that was alarming to them. According, to the audit
report 1,704 social workers were hired into Child Protective Services (CPS) in the state in 2012.
It was found that up to 34.3% of all of the new hires vacated the positions within that year. (Keel,
J 2013) This is just looking at new hires and not at seasoned or agents who have been with CPS
any other duration of time. This means of the 1,704 of the people hired 580 of them quit within
the year or moved to other positions. Can you imagine the affect this has on an agency’s budget?
CASE WORKER TURNOVER IN THE SOCIAL SERVICES 3
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Service, “turnover of
frontline workers, as well as supervisory and management staff, is a major concern in many child
welfare agencies. In some jurisdictions, worker turnover is as high as 90 percent per year.” The
big reason for alarm here is that according to the US Child Welfare League of America two years
is the required amount of time in the position of a Child Protective Service Agent to have the
adequate on job knowledge to be capable of doing the job proficiently. It should be stated that
nationwide the average length of employment in CPS is less than two years in fact up to about
60% of CPS hires do not make it to two years.
Why is Caseworker Turnover So High?
While, there are many reasons for high turnover I found one article summed up all of the
issues extremely well. The article was titled, Causes and Effects of Child Welfare Workforce
Turnover: Current State of Knowledge and Future Decisions. While, I am not going to post the
article word for word it lays out a solid case for why the turnover rate is so high. It sets three
preliminary categories individual factors, supervisory factors, and organizational factors.
Listing individual factors as follows, burnout, demographics, professional commitment
and social work education. Burnout is generally the most stated reason for termination of the
role of a CPS worker. According, to The Child Welfare League of America the optimal
caseworker load is 15 clients or families. (Belmont 2011) It should be noted that a CPS worker
with this meager a caseload is almost unheard of. It has been reported that some more
expierenced caseworkers hold as much as 100 cases. In fact, the average caseload for most CPS
workers sites around 40 to 60 cases per agent. Mind you, that one case could have up to three or
CASE WORKER TURNOVER IN THE SOCIAL SERVICES 4
even four children, and they might not all be in the same home. As well as physical exhaustion it
is also noted that emotional exhaustion occurs.
Demographics are explained as the age, gender and ethnicity of the caseworker. There
appears to be higher rates of turnover in CPS workers of an ethnicity because of excessive
emotional burnout. It was also found that young workers who landed themselves with caseloads
simply used the position to gain a better position after getting some experience under their belts.
This also speaks to the category of Professional Commitment. It also plays to the category of
education, when the workers have less experience in the field while at the same time being
overburdened; it leads to quicker burnout levels.
The next category of Supervisory Factors includes, Supportive Supervision which to sum
up extremely quickly is essentially a lack of resources or insufficient supervision. A large
majority of people who left the field cited that they chose to leave because they had no idea if
they were even doing their job correctly. They felt they had been thrown to wolves and were to
afraid of destroying children’s lives.
The last category of Organizational Factors includes job satisfaction, organizational
commitment, general organizational practices, caseload and workload, salary and promotional
opportunities. All of these issues feed into previously mentioned areas of causes except the
salary. Did you know that CPS workers make on average less money than teachers? I do not
have to go into much depth about this issue. I think that analogy is good enough to explain the
money situation to most people.
Why is this issue? Who does it harm?
While, ignoring the obvious answer to this question of the children for a moment; let’s
take a moment to look at what this could do to state budgets. If you look at Appendix 1 which is
CASE WORKER TURNOVER IN THE SOCIAL SERVICES 5
an analysis of the CPS agency in Texas and do just a little math; it is easy to see the effect of
worker turnover on state budgets. If there were 4551 workers with a turnover rate of 26% that is
1172 people that quit in 2012. If the average salary is $35,171 then the total state budget spent on
those workers that quit was $41,220,412. That is a lot of money in training, and knowledge and
experience walking out the door. It is an evolving problem; if that many people quit you have to
train that many more people you have to hire and training; draining state budgets when all state
budgets are cutting back. It might beg the question is it costing us more money to pay lower
salaries and fuel unhappy CPS workers or to pay high salaries and have higher retention rates?
There have been many studies that have finished research on the effects of caseworker
turnover on the children themselves. One study found that children who had more than one
caseworker had an almost 60% chance of finding a permanent placement with in the Adoption
and Safe Families Act timeframes. In fact, some states even have legal requirements for a case to
be solved and proof for a home to be unfit within a year or the child has to be given back to the
parents. In which case, the child would eventually be taken again, which causes a strain on
resources, time management, the court system and most importantly the children.
In fact findings do suggest that children who experienced multiple caseworkers have a
lack of stability, loss of trusting relationships and in some cases a loss at a second chance in life.
I did a stent of training with an organization called CASA of Johnson County. This organization
has sprouted up as a non-profit to help supplement the CPS agencies around the country. They
train volunteers to essentially be secondary caseworkers. They visit the children each week,
make sure their medical records get from place to place visit teachers and such things as that.
They essentially, stay with the child to keep at least one person who is stable in their
environment. In my training it was explained to us that during the one to two years that a child
CASE WORKER TURNOVER IN THE SOCIAL SERVICES 6
can be in CPS that some can have as many as four to seven case workers. Every, time a new
caseworker appeared you would be there to keep them up to date, given them recommendations.
Each month these CASA members send reports to judges explaining what is going on and
making recommendations for placement and life improvements.
What Can Be Done?
There are many theories on what can be done to solve these problems the most easy
recommendation to be made is higher salaries and lower caseloads. We all know with state
budget cuts and economic reccessions that such a dream will not happen. With, this in mind let
us look at a few other options to help solve this crisis being had with Americas most at risk
One article I read suggests that research should be done to empirically prove that
caseworker retention directly affects the development and life chances of youth who are affected
by the turnover. It also suggests that the youth themselves be brought in to give feedback and
offer changes. Nobody knows better how they were affected by these events more then the
people actually affected. They also suggest youths being involved in the recruitment and hiring
Another, article suggests we should hit the senate and congress floors attempting to push
legislation through that would aid the social services industry. The author goes to great lengths to
explain that most people in the field do not want to be part of this process and that they should
pay more attention. He explains that the lack of budgetary surplus, combined with the slow rate
of growth makes funding from the government competitive and that he does not have a hand in
the legislation loses the funding. He also mentions that while gathering funding and legislation
from the government it is important to involve the public and inform the public why it is
CASE WORKER TURNOVER IN THE SOCIAL SERVICES 7
necessary to have this money; especially, since it will most likely be their tax money that will be
funding your efforts.
The article I mentioned earlier by Strolin, J., McCarthy, M., & Caringi, J lays out a
different approach. It states that a need to have empirical scientific data to prove the cause and
effect relationships is necessary. Stating that data must be developed before an answer or
solution to the problem can even be discussed. They recommend a social Meta study be
completed; to allow for the most social change and progression within the social services
Lastly, the study done by Raycraft, J. suggests that our efforts should not be centered on
why people leave but, on why people stay. It suggests that there must be something in common
between the people who do not leave the industry rather than who leave. He suggests data be
collected on salaries, case rates, education levels to see if there is a common denominator or a
magic number that could solve the problems at hand.
The different ideas presented above represent a vast array of ideas in which how to deal
with the issues currently plaguing the social services industry. While, all of them make sense and
have their own merits. I have a few recommendations of my own that I think would direct us in
the right direction. While, studies are good we already know there is a problem let’s set out to
attempt to resolve the issues. I think the recommendations I have laid out below will go a long
way to at least put a dent into the current worker retention agencies. When an agency runs
efficiently it runs at its lowest operating costs. This in turn, saves us all money while also
keeping children stable and happy.
CASE WORKER TURNOVER IN THE SOCIAL SERVICES 8
Recommendation 1- Infuse social services with funding for new hire training and retention
Recommendation 2- Work with people graduating in the social services with internships and in
school training. This allows for people leaving school to enter the field with more knowledge and
more capable training.
Recommendation 3- Mandatory in office counseling to help with Emotional Burnout.
Recommendation 4- Job Contracts – offer tuition reimbursement offers with contract
requirements for 3-5 years for recent college graduates to help with retention.
Recommendation 5- Create interactive online resource services to aid social workers with
information and the tools necessary to complete their jobs with little supervision.
Recommendation 6- Keep workers involved with some children after placement, positive
reinforcement goes a long way to give job satisfaction. The desire to make a difference and to
actually see that difference made could be the difference between some workers leaving and
Recommendation 7- Increased salary ranges for seasoned social workers, a goal and a clear
vision of promotion goes a far way.
Recommendation 8- Slow increase of case loads, better to overload seasoned more well paid
workers then brand new workers, attempting to stay near the lower levels of case retention
during the first two years of residency for social workers.
CASE WORKER TURNOVER IN THE SOCIAL SERVICES 9
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