Transform Child Welfare through Support for the Workforce


  • Increase funding for workforce development initiatives in Title IV-B to promote recruitment, training, and retention of high-quality child welfare staff.
  • Significantly increase child welfare funding for services that provide families and staff with the tools they need for success.
  • Address systemic concerns that negatively impact the child welfare workforce.

Child Welfare System Transformation Starts with a Strong Workforce

A well-trained and well-staffed child welfare workforce is vital to the goals of legislators and the broader community. All the reforms enacted by Congress in recent years, including screening victims of sex trafficking, reducing group home care, expanding kinship care, finding more foster parents, enhancing foster and adoptive parent training, increasing legal permanency through adoptions and guardianships, more direct consulting with youth in foster care, addressing substance abuse and mental health needs within families, and entering new data are all dependent on the caseworker.

Child welfare work is labor-intensive and emotionally taxing. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened preexisting issues within the workforce, with high turnover rates and rising concern over compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary trauma. Increased turnover rates and the resulting higher caseloads perpetuate the caseworker crisis. Studies have found that factors related to workloads such as emotional exhaustion and inadequate supervisory or administrative support also lead to increased levels of turnover.

High caseworker turnover rates negatively impact children and families. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis of 27 available Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs) in 2003 showed that staff shortages, high caseloads, and worker turnover were factors impeding progress toward the achievement of federal safety and permanency outcomes. The report noted that staffing shortages and high caseloads disrupt case management by limiting workers’ ability to establish and maintain relationships with children and families. Research in Milwaukee and Illinois suggests that children are more likely to achieve permanence if they are assigned fewer workers over the course of their stay in foster care.

Strengthening the workforce and ensuring that caseworkers have manageable workloads will reduce incidents of child abuse, reduce the number of children going into foster care, and increase adoptions for children of all ages. A stronger workforce could also allow agencies to devote more resources to post-adoption and reunification services to strengthen permanency for children and families.

Support the Child Welfare Workforce Through Titles IV-E and IV-B

Increase funding for workforce development and training. There is currently $20M designated for workforce development in Title IV-B, dependent upon caseworkers visiting families on a monthly basis. Once split among all the state, county, and Tribal child welfare programs, this $20M does not go nearly far enough to truly support the workforce. We recommend substantially increasing this set-aside.

Promote recruitment and retention. Recruitment and retention of qualified caseworkers is essential for establishing a well-staffed and well-trained workforce. High vacancy rates and unfilled positions lead to much higher caseloads for frontline staff and stress from high caseloads leads to high rates of turnover and burnout; these problems compound on one another.


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