Crisis in Child Welfare

One of the biggest crises in the child welfare system is caseworker turnover. Many involved families have ten or more new workers through the life of their case. According to Crosscut, turnover is around 20 percent a year in Washington State and has been as high as 30 percent in King County (almost any involved party can tell you those numbers are much higher in particular regional offices).  The effects of a caseworker carousel on families is devastating. As noted by Crosscut, per a Wisconsin study a child with one worker has a 75 percent chance of being placed in a permanent and stable home within one year. This figure drops to 18 percent if a child has two caseworkers in one year, and a staggeringly low .1 percent with six or seven caseworkers. New caseworkers often cannot rely on their supervisors to fill them in, as their supervisors frequently are also new to the case (or in some instances the supervisor position is vacant and being temporarily filled by even higher-up staff with little knowledge of the family). This dynamic makes foster parents feel unsupported by the State, in turn reducing the amount of willing foster homes. Such turnover results in a “Catch-22” situation where the scarcity of foster homes makes it hard for the State to retain employees. The workers who are retained long-term end up carrying much above their caseload, making it impossible for them to do their job well. This is crippling for parents working to have their children returned home. They often cannot get a hold of any worker familiar with their case. Referrals for court-ordered services essential for reunification are often not submitted for months, if at all. Information regarding their compliance with case requirements might be sent to a worker who left their job without notifying families. Many parents feel like giving up as such turnover makes their efforts feel futile and their voice unheard. It is clear that that one of the biggest issues the state must address aggressively is figuring out how to retain well-trained social workers for the long term.

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