Spotlight On Supporting the Child Welfare Workforce

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March 2023 Header Only

Supporting the Child Welfare Workforce



Child welfare agencies continue to experience challenges related to staff vacancies and turnover all over the country. Jurisdictions have been working on strategies to address these workforce challenges. In the interim, child welfare staff and leaders have been stepping up to take on additional responsibilities and work with partners to ensure that child and family outcomes are met and children, youth, and families have access to the services and supports they need to thrive.

Recent agency strategies to address some of these challenges include redesigning child welfare jobs to reduce turnover (Louisiana); restructuring the onboarding process for new workers (Cherokee Nation); implementing coaching and supervision models (Ohio); offering simulation training for new workers and helping existing workers acquire new skills (Pennsylvania; Illinois); and working to create a positive agency culture, reducing caseloads, and offering development opportunities to child welfare staff (New Jersey).


  • Recruiting and retaining staff with the competencies necessary for quality practice with children and families is challenging for most agencies across the country. Annual child welfare turnover rates have averaged between 20 percent and 40 percent over the past 15 years[1].
  • Child welfare staff have identified the combination of high job expectations (often reflected as high qualifications), the relatively low pay of child welfare jobs, and a work culture and climate perceived as stressful and unsupportive of worker well-being to be a standout challenge. Although this is not a new challenge, it’s been substantially exacerbated by the pandemic[2].
  • Research findings indicate that rates of job satisfaction and retention are significantly lower in organizations perceived as having a poor diversity-and-inclusion climate. Alternately, higher levels of workforce diversity and inclusion have been found to contribute to higher levels of organizational commitment, as well as lower levels of turnover[3].
  • Tribal agencies face additional challenges in the area of recruitment and retention, such as navigating the potential lack of resources in rural areas, connecting new workers to cultural understanding of issues affecting children and families, and impending decisions related to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).


There are a number of strategies child welfare agencies can explore to begin addressing recruitment, retention, and other workforce-related challenges in child welfare. While some require resources that are beyond the full control of agency leaders, many can start to be implemented right away. Strategies include:

  • Implementing a coaching or mentoring model to enhance supervision for child welfare workers and providing consistent, supportive, and psychologically safe supervision for staff at all levels
  • Hiring Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and people with lived expertise as staff to bring a unique perspective to child welfare agencies
  • Prioritizing and developing resources and programs to support child welfare staff well-being (e.g., access to employee assistance programs, communities of practice, and published or digital resources on self-care)
  • Using stay and exit surveys to get a better sense of organizational culture needs to create a welcoming, inclusive, diverse, equitable and collaborative agency culture
  • Ensuring that child welfare professionals, including people with lived expertise, are compensated fairly
  • Recognizing the work of child welfare professionals in a meaningful and consistent way (e.g., compensation for intern supervision, translation work, leading additional initiatives, and coverage of others’ workloads; public recognition by leadership; etc.)

The Capacity Building Center for States has additional resources to help agencies build capacity to better support existing staff and attract new workers.

Center Resources

CWVE 2021 LE

Related Resources

Umbrella Summary - Larger

Related Organizations

  • Center for Native Child and Family Resilience – As part of a Children’s Bureau initiative to raise awareness of tribally engaged prevention and intervention efforts, the Center for Native Child and Family Resilience partners with tribes to examine solutions for healing the ongoing family trauma persisting in the aftermath of the numerous historical injuries shared by many tribal communities, including the breakup of Indian families and child removal.
  • National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) – NCWWI promotes organizational interventions focused on developing and retaining a diverse and effective workforce by supporting partnerships among public and tribal child welfare programs and schools of social work.
  • Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (QIC-WD) – QIC-WD is dedicated to understanding how to improve child welfare workforce outcomes by synthesizing current trends and research and generating new knowledge about effective strategies.
  • Tribal Information Exchange – This library contains over 200 articles and resources relevant to tribal child welfare, gathered from a wide variety of sources. It also includes all the products developed by the Capacity Building Center for Tribes.

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