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Improving Recruitment & Retention in Public Child Welfare – Some Lessons Learned. University of Iowa and Iowa Department of Human Services December 4, 2008. Background. Collaboration between the University of Iowa School of Social Work and the Iowa Department of Human Services

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Improving Recruitment & Retention in Public Child Welfare – Some Lessons Learned

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Improving Recruitment & Retention in Public Child Welfare – Some Lessons Learned

University of Iowa


Iowa Department of Human Services

December 4, 2008

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  • Collaboration between the University of Iowa School of Social Work and the Iowa Department of Human Services

  • One of 8 projects funded by the Children’s Bureau under the priority area of developing training to improve Recruitment and Retention in public child welfare agencies.

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Child Welfare Workforce Challenges

  • Long-standing high turnover rates & inability to fill vacant positions in child welfare agencies

  • Demographic workforce changes: aging workforce, younger workers with different values (work/life balance), loss of rural workforce

  • Demographic population changes: migration of diverse populations into formerly homogeneous communities

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Child Welfare Workforce Research

  • Key factors associated with retention

    • Supervision

    • Service orientation/mission/caring

    • Workload

    • Organizational support

    • Coworker support

    • Promotional opportunities

    • Organizational climate

    • Social work education

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University of Iowa’s Project

  • Retention in the public child welfare agency through statewide supervisor training

  • Recruitment through development of child welfare specialization at UI School of Social work

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Impact of Supervision

  • Supervision plays an important role in enhancing child welfare workers’ job satisfaction, commitment, and retention (Rycraft, 1994; Landsman, 2001, 2008; Dickinson & Perry, 2002; U.S. GAO, 2003).

  • Supervisors have key role in training/mentoring child welfare workers (Gleeson, 1992; Curry et al., 2005)

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Impact of Supervision

  • Supervisors can help mediate effects of stressful working conditions and job demands (Mor Barak, Nissley,& Levin, 2001)

  • Perception that supervisors provide opportunities to develop skills results in increased organizational citizenship behaviors and improved performance (Hopkins, 2002)

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Impact of Social Work Education

  • Some evidence from research that Title IV-E MSW trained workers more likely to stay in child welfare (Dickinson & Perry, 2002; Jones, 2002; Robin & Hollister, 2002)

  • Some evidence from research that Title IV-E trained social workers have stronger knowledge/skills (Fox et al., 2000; Gansle & Ellett, 2002; Hopkins, Mudrick, & Rudolph, 1999)

  • Mixed research evidence on impact of having a social work degree on retention

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  • Need: 9% of DHS employees hold the MSW degree; 47% hold a BSW.

  • University of Iowa School of Social Work did not offer specific courses to prepare students for child welfare careers

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  • Focused on strengthening the School of Social Work’s curricula in child welfare

  • Developed child welfare field of practice for MSW and BSW students

  • Developed three new courses specifically focused on child welfare:

    • Child Welfare Policy and Practice,

    • Clinical Issues in Child Welfare; and

    • Supervision in Child Welfare

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Retention – Supervision Training

  • Baseline statewide employee survey

  • Focus groups in all service areas to obtain supervisor input

  • Eight day supervisor training program developed with input/involvement of IA supervisors for IA supervisors

    • Developed model of supervision

  • Implemented training 2x statewide

  • Evaluation of usefulness, knowledge gain

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Lesson Learned (#1)

  • Seeking input from supervisors early in the process helped to increase relevance and investment

  • Evaluation data: between 80-98% of supervisors participated in training

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  • Curriculum content discussed with statewide advisory committee

  • Training implemented in four geographically mixed groups (per request)

  • Each module delivered in 1-2 days

  • Each module field tested with 1 group, then revised and delivered to other groups

  • Trainings included lecture/small group discussion/break-out workshops

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Lesson Learned (#2)

  • Supervisors appreciated and benefitted from opportunities to interact with peers from across the state; more opportunities for peer support for supervisors are needed

  • Evaluation data: open-ended comments reinforced the value of opportunities for peer support

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Baseline Survey

  • Statewide web-based survey of public child welfare employees

  • Administered in year 1

  • 59% response rate

  • Measured perceptions of the workplace, supports and stressors, job demands, job satisfaction, commitment, intentions to stay

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Organizational Commitment as Precursor to Retention

Organizational commitment:

the relative strength of the individuals’ identification with and involvement in the employing organization.

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Pathways to Organizational Commitment






Org. Support

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Findings from Baseline Survey*

Service orientation


Role ambiguity

Distributive justice

Supervisor support



Promotional opp

Landsman, M.J. (2008). Pathways to organizational commitment. Administration in Social Work, 32(2), 105-132.






Org. support

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Lesson Learned (#3)

  • Supervisor support affects both emotional satisfaction with the job and appraisal of how the organization values them and cares about them

  • Investing in supervisors through training and mentoring may be a fruitful strategy to improve staff commitment and retention.

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Key Concepts in Our Supervision Model

  • Supervision as an intentional practice

    • Supervision programming

  • Learning organization

  • Parallel process

  • Developmental, individualized approach

  • Strength-based, reflective supervision

  • Competency-based

    • Competencies and task analyses

  • Cultural competence

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The Learning Organization

A learning organization is:

  • “skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights” (Garvin, 1998).

  • characterized by “routine examination of daily activities for opportunities to discover and disseminate knowledge that will enhance practice and services” (Cohen, 2004)

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Supervisory Tools for Supporting the Learning Organization

  • Tools for teaching

    • Assessing learning styles

    • Designing in-service training

  • Tools for guiding workers to reflect on their practice models

  • Formats for investigating evidence-based practice

  • Tools for systematic supervision (e.g., formats for case conferences, formats for supervisory observation)

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Parallel Process (Cohen, C. 2004)

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Strength-Based, Developmental Supervision Principles

  • Each staff member, including the supervisor, is constantly learning, adapting to changing responsibilities

  • Mastery proceeds developmentally

  • Each staff member has unique contributions and strengths

  • A comprehensive supervision program enables the supervisor to specifically assess and build upon staff strengths to fulfill the program’s purposes and to develop staff competence

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Advanced Professional





worker initiative

Integration of knowledge and values into practice with families and in communities

Increasing organizational citizenship/leadership/


Worker Developmental Stages

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Reflective Supervision

A supervision process that

  • elicits from the worker their competence/capacities/ experiences

  • encourages workers to generate solutions to their practice dilemmas

  • attends to the supervisor-supervisee relationship

  • elicits worker self-reflection and critical thinking

  • strengthens worker’s observation and listening skills

  • promotes worker self-efficacy

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Developmental Supervision Model

  • Individualize supervision by:

    • Identifying worker skill levels

    • Identify worker preferred learning style

    • Matching supervisory intervention to worker skill level and learning preferences

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Lesson Learned (#4)

  • Developing a model of supervision reinforced supervision as a model of practice

  • Evaluation data:

    • pre and post-tests of knowledge demonstrated significant increase for 87-99% of participants;

    • supervisors increased reported use of supervision skills over 6 month measurement intervals;

    • Turnover data (excluding retirements) reveal that 4.3% left the agency in the first year after the project began, 4.1% in the second year. Analysis of remaining data is in progress

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Competency Based

  • Knowledge, values and skills necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the job

  • Competencies specified through

    • Articulation of the practice model

    • Task analyses (useful to move from global to specific worker assessment; identify individual and unit strengths/resources/needs; conduct ongoing formative evaluations)

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Cultural Competence

  • Integrated throughout curriculum

    • Managing a diverse workforce / work environment / recruitment

    • Succession planning

    • Supporting workers’ development of culturally competent case practice

    • Using evidence based practice for culturally competent clinical supervision

    • Building community relationships

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Overview of Supervisory Curriculum

  • Module I: Contemporary Child Welfare Supervisory Practice

  • Module II: Human Resources and Workforce Development

  • Module III: Case Practice Supervision

  • Module IV: Clinical Practice Supervision

  • Module V: Supervisors’ Role In Addressing Worker Stress and Safety; Leading Positive Change, Public and Community Relations

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Lesson Learned (#5)

  • Supervisors benefited from training on vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, self-care as much for themselves as for their staff

  • More attention to self-care for supervisors

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Next Steps

  • Finalizing training curriculum and tools

  • Follow-up statewide employee survey

    • How did perceptions of workplace change over time?

  • Finishing compilation of turnover and job change data

    • What trends were identified in turnover and job changes over time?

    • How are changes in perceptions of the workplace related to retention?

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Module I: Contemporary Child Welfare Supervisory Practice

External forces that affect contemporary social work supervision

“Parallel practice” elements of staff supervision

Cohen, 2004

Apply elements of high performing teams to the work unit (e.g., “a learning organization,” focus on process, relationship, integration of cultural competence)

Understand personal strengths and challenges as a child welfare supervisor

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Module II: Human Resources Functions

Effective staff recruitment

Strategies for staff retention and development

Workforce demographics

Succession planning

Managing staff performance issues

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Module I and II Workshops

  • Assessing Learning Styles

  • Managing Diversity

  • Supervising Underperforming/Impaired Workers

  • Employment Interviewing for Success in Public Child Welfare (including use of Realistic Job Previews)

  • Supervision of Intergenerational Dynamics

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Module III: Case Practice Supervision

Strength-based, reflective supervision

Supervisory ethics

Structured supervision program

Topic-specific workshops: Professional Writing, Safe Case Closure, Culturally Competent Practice, Developing In-Service Programs, Supervising an Impaired Worker

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Multiple Methods Supervision

  • Group supervision

  • Live practice oversight

  • Focused case supervision

  • Full case reviews

  • Stuck case conferences

  • Record reviews/record audits

  • Specific clinical problems

  • Peer consultation

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Module IV: Clinical Practice Supervision

Integrating knowledge into supervision

Child and adolescent development

Adult and child mental health

These two units being made into “take-home” modules for supervisors

Helping workers develop and refine practice theories

Supervising effective intervention planning using evidence-based practice

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Module V: Worker Stress and Safety; Leading Positive Change; Public & Community Relations

Leadership during organizational transformation – helping workers deal with change

Individual and organizational factors of resilience

Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue

Responding to critical incidents

Workplace safety

Strategies for promoting self care

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