The child welfare field has always experienced high turnover rates among front-line workers. These jobs are difficult, demanding and even dangerous.
But something new is happening here in Hamilton County and around the nation. Front-line 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 on-boarding 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.