The Special Committee on Foster Care Oversight (Special Committee) met during the 2020 Interim to discuss various topics related to the State’s child welfare system. This article addresses the workforce issues within the system, including barriers faced and best practices from other states.
Child Welfare Professionals
The American Academy of Pediatrics defines child welfare professionals as foster parents and kin caregivers, pediatricians, other physicians in medical specialties, child advocates, psychologists, and therapists. In Kansas, this definition can be expanded to Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) employees who conduct child protective service investigations, staff who support grantee organizations, staff members of the Kansas Protection Report Center, and case management and prevention services staff through grantees.
Child welfare professionals range in their education level, employment, role within the system, and location. However, each professional is impacted by legislative requirements and DCF policies.
Barriers to the Workforce
Stakeholders reported various barriers that contribute to the current state of the workforce within Kansas’ child welfare system. Some of the common reasons stated for the high turnover rate of child welfare professionals are burnout, unmet needs, and lack of support.
A National Association of Social Workers (NASW) report on child welfare described challenges to recruitment and retention of child welfare professionals, including low salaries, high caseloads, administrative burdens, risk of violence, and inadequate supervision (https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=Mr2sd4diMUA%3D). Although salaries increase with experience, many professionals do not stay in the child welfare system for an extended amount of time.
Many child welfare professionals spend more time on paperwork than with their clients; however, they do recognize that some paperwork is necessary. The number of caseloads per worker can range from 10 to 100 across the country; an excessive number of cases leads to burnout. Child welfare supervisors often have their own caseload or manage a significant number of employees, which leaves all employees without the support or guidance some professionals need.
The Child Welfare League of America introduced the National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare, which addresses workforce needs. Some of these needs include orientation and training programs, continuing education, annual performance evaluation, and reasonable workloads. Additionally, the Blueprint indicates employers should encourage self-care and provide wellness opportunities and stress management strategies. The Blueprint is available at https://www.cwla.org/our-work/cwla-standards-of-excellence/national-blueprint-for-excellence-in-child-welfare/.
During a presentation before the Special Committee, a representative of the Kansas chapter of the NASW suggested the State consider increasing recruitment and retention of child welfare professionals by offering financial incentives such as student loan forgiveness, tuition reimbursement, and free continuing education units. It was also recommended an annual survey be conducted to determine which incentives are utilized. The representative further recommended the State consider career readiness at the middle and high school level to introduce students to the profession, career
paths within the system that provide opportunities for advancement, and field placement experiences to assist the tenure of the Kansas child welfare workforce. To assist with the unmet needs regionally, the representative recommended the Rural Opportunity Zone Student Loan Repayment Program could be expanded to additional communities where there is a greater need of support. Other suggestions included ensuring professionals have a work/life balance, maintain the recommended caseload size, and have access to supervisors and self-care in order to combat burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress.
To positively impact the child welfare workforce, state legislatures are passing bills that affect training, caseload capacity, and other factors.
In 2019, the Kansas Legislature passed House Sub. for SB 25 (the Appropriations Bill), which created 16 additional full-time equivalent child welfare staff positions. DCF reported that these positions lowered caseloads for frontline child protective services staff and increased the efficiency of service delivery. Additionally, DCF made policy changes to decrease the supervisor to caseworker ratio across the state to be more in line with the Council on Accreditation best practices.
The Kansas Legislature also passed SB 15 in 2019, which provided for licensure by reciprocity for social workers at baccalaureate, master’s, and specialist clinical levels and amended the requirements for licensure by reciprocity for other professions regulated by the Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board (BSRB). Applicants who are deficient in the qualifications or in the quality of educational experience required for licensure are allowed to obtain provisional licenses to allow the applicants time to fulfill remedial or other requirements prescribed by the BSRB. For several professions, the bill amended provisions related to temporary licenses for applicants who have met all licensure requirements except for taking the required licensing examination. The bill also amended the licensure requirements for a specialist clinical social worker to reduce the number of hours of postgraduate supervised professional experience required.
During the Special Committee, committee members recommended the creation of a workforce development task force or work group to further examine improvements that can be made within the child welfare system.
Illinois passed SB 1889 in 2019, which amended its Children and Family Services Act to continue developing and utilizing the Child Protection Training Academy that was originally established in 2015. The Academy is conducted by the University of Illinois-Springfield’s Center for State Policy and Leadership. The Academy incorporates simulation training for recognizing and responding to cases of child abuse or neglect for mandated reporters. Cultural competency training is also provided through the Academy for the workforce’s “response to and engagement with families and children of color.” Additionally, development of laboratory training facilities, including mock houses, courtrooms, medical facilities, and interview rooms is also encouraged by the Illinois Legislature.
The Maine Legislature passed HB 595 in 2019 to require the Department of Health and Human Services to review caseload standards and develop recommendations. The Office of Child and Family Services (OFCS) determined it was understaffed in 2019 and 2020 and implemented a workload analytic tool to establish appropriate workload and caseload expectations. While this tool incorporates the number of reports, assessments, and children in care, it also takes OFCS’s vacancy rate, the experience level of current staff, and geographical areas into consideration to determine the workforce’s current capacity.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute created the Virtual Workforce Supports Resource Collection, available at https://www.ncwwi.org/index.php/resourcemenu/virtual-workforce-supports, which contains training and documents for child welfare professionals addressing supervising through distancing, hosting virtual meetings, tips for teleworking, and using video conferences for caseworker visits. Additionally, the National Conference of State Legislatures released child welfare resources, including “COVID-19 and Child Welfare: A Series of Virtual Meetings” (https://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/covid-19-child-welfare-a-series-of-virtual-meetings637256622.aspx); one entry focused on supporting the child welfare workforce. The webinar examined issues such as the decrease in child abuse reporting, the lack of appropriate personal protective equipment, and the inability to directly engage with children.
Chardae Caine, Fiscal Analyst
Iraida Orr, Principal Research Analyst
Norma Volkmer, Fiscal Analyst