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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 4, No. 3
June 1999

Ideas for Retaining Child Welfare Workers in North Carolina

What do directors, administrators, supervisors, and line social workers from North Carolina's county departments of social services think about child welfare staff turnover? In February 1999 representatives of North Carolina's 27 Families for Kids and IV-E Waiver counties met to talk about this issue and come up with solutions. Here are some of their ideas:

  • Address liability concerns. Determine if social workers can be provided professional liability insurance through the county's legal services to allay fears about liability.

  • Improve compensation. Better pay needs to be paired with adequate staffing and reasonable workloads. Regardless of what someone is being paid, there's only so much she can do. Improved compensation could lure new employees and reward experienced people who stay.

  • Change the caseload standard for foster care. In general, North Carolina's caseload standards are very similar to those recommended by the Child Welfare League of America—but not in the case of foster care. CWLA recommends 12 families; North Carolina's standard is 20.

  • Improve the reputation of child welfare. Often the community negatively perceives DSS, which impedes recruitment and indirectly makes working conditions more difficult. Consider a publicity campaign.

  • Improve the climate in the agency. Although everyone contributes to the mood, the director plays the largest role. Consider formally celebrating workers' successes, offering bonuses, ensuring the administration facilitates the workers' jobs, empowering workers and giving them ownership (e.g., via suggestion boxes).

  • Ease new employees into their jobs. It is daunting to return from training and receive a full caseload. There was some discussion of giving new employees reduced caseloads initially, but it was also pointed out that the reduced caseload would leave slack to be picked up by other, older staff who might lose morale.

  • Build the pre-service training into the MSW degree. Students would get credit for the training while they are in school, and they'd be ready to take on a caseload the day they're hired. Building the training into the MSW may also reduce the number of people who take a job only to quit, saying they really didn't know what the job would be like.

  • Implement a dual track or multiple-response system. The cooperation with law enforcement could help ease stress and reduce the workload.

  • Offer flexible hours. A flexible work week will enable workers to see their own families and to meet the needs of their clients.

  • Lobby the legislature. Convince the legislature to contribute more funds for child welfare services so the improvements mentioned above (such as better compensation) can be implemented.

  • Evaluate exit interviews. Reformat the exit interview so that the agency learns as much as possible about why people leave. What you learn may influence future plans for retaining staff.

  • Reduce inter-county competition. All counties need to make improvements to reduce competition for employees among counties.

  • Reduce the time it takes to fill vacancies.To do this, agencies could establish a number of temporary-to-permanent positions to cover when permanent employees are on sick leave or vacation and to fill vacancies as they open up. Those employees would also get the pre-service training when they begin their temporary employment. Once they are hired as full-time employees, they are ready to take on a full caseload. Another idea was to keep a posting for an open position up at all times, whether there is actually a vacancy at that moment.

1999 Jordan Institute for Families