Study seeks to address burnout, turnover among child welfare workers

Jan 23, 2018
Montgomery County Children Services caseworker Janine Elders visits a child in custody currently receiving foster care from Patricia Boring. Elders, with Children Services 22 years, now works with foster parents but spent her first years on the job working directly with families in crisis. She said she was able to cope that long by not taking work home with her. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF

Ohio has been selected to participate in a national research project aimed at decreasing workforce turnover at child welfare agencies.

The research will take place over the next four years in Montgomery, Clark, Champaign, Hamilton, Knox, Summit, Trumbull and Wayne counties. It’s being conducted by the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau.

Turnover at child welfare agencies is typically up to six times the national average turnover rate for all industries, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

RELATED: High staff turnover, burnout puts child welfare system in crisis

Overworked caseworkers was cited as a contributing cause of child deaths from abuse and neglect in a 2017 investigation by this newspaper. That probe found hundreds of children have died in Ohio while on the radar of a child welfare agencies.

In at least 19 cases, the child had been initially removed from the home because of an unsafe living situation and then returned — sometimes just days before their deaths.

INVESTIGATION: Who’s protecting our children?

READ THEIR STORIES: These 19 children died after welfare agencies returned them to their birth parents

Officials and lawmakers responding to that report said Ohio’s child welfare system needs better funding and the overburdening of caseworkers needs to be addressed.

“Ultimately, a stronger workforce with less turnover and more supportive organizational environments should improve the outcomes of the vulnerable families and children served by the child welfare system,” said Dr. Michelle Graef, QIC-WD director.

Other sites selected nationally for this research include Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington, Milwaukee and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.