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High turnover in County Children and Youth Agencies is directly impacting families in the system

Staffing within the child welfare system can have direct impacts on the children and families within it.

by Elise Person, CBS21, November 2, 2023

Staffing within the child welfare system can have direct impacts on the children and families within it.

As counties are seeing high turnover rates and losing experienced caseworkers, they’re quickly trying to onboard new ones. However, sometimes counties will have to bring in a large number of caseworkers with only years, or even months of experience.

Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services president and CEO, Terry Clark said when counties have a high number of caseworkers with less than two years of experience, families will sometimes not receive the correct level of service.

“It is very difficult to find anyone that has been in a child welfare agency, especially those that are doing the direct services, for more than two years,” Clark said.

Rachael Miller, policy director with Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC), said caseworker turnover has significant impacts on the overall system.

She said caseworkers with not as much experience aren’t as fluent in navigating the system as more seasoned caseworkers. She said this can leave children in the system longer.

“When you have caseworkers that are not necessarily seasoned, you can see things like cases being open longer, having the agency involved longer,” Miller said.

In Dauphin County, their county children and youth services (CYS) administrator, Marisa McClellan said out of their nearly 60 caseworkers, 19 of them have been with the county agency for less than a year.

Cumberland County’s CYS assistant administrator, Nicole Crisp, said between 2022 and 2023, they saw a 30 percent turnover rate.

She said the county is currently at a full staff compliment with 53 caseworkers but adds that 24 caseworkers have a year or less of experience with the county.

“Now they may come to us with different experiences, but we do hire staff who are new graduates,” Crisp said.

However, when it comes to turnover data in other counties across PA, the state doesn’t collect that information.

In fact, Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services’ 2023 Annual Progress and Services report notes that Pennsylvania doesn’t collect consistent data regarding staff turnover within county children and youth agencies, which makes it difficult to have a full understand of the issue.

The over 300-page report also indicated turnover as a “barrier to achieving permanency” for children in the welfare system.

Clark said looking at supporting caseworkers more can play a role to higher retention rates in counties.

“By paying them a higher wage, by supporting them and paying off college loans, by giving them incentives bonuses, adequate pay ranges over period of time, and then of course more flexibility at doing their job, I think the better it makes it so that people wanna come back into this job,” Clark said.

Some counties said they are working to improve retention rates through staff appreciation events like bagel breakfasts, or offering a more modified work week, such as working from home one day a week.