Professional work in public child welfare is one of the most difficult, psychologically demanding, publicly scrutinized, but important jobs in the service of children and families in need in Georgia. Professionals in public child welfare (CW) are charged not only with providing critical and needed services to children and families, but also with assisting in the process of making life altering decisions for involuntary clients (e.g., removing children from their families, foster care placement, termination of parental rights, adoption). The difficulties in working in public CW are exacerbated by occasional, high profile abuse and neglect cases that receive attention from the mass media (e.g., serious injuries, or child fatalities) combined with a broad misunderstanding by the general public about what the proper roles, functions, and limitations are of those who work in public child welfare
Researchers and child welfare leaders are beginning to recognize that the workforce may be the most important variable over which agencies and policy makers may have some control. The agency has little control over the nature of clients served, and even less control over the external environment in which the agency is embedded. A key workforce issue in Georgia is the high CW employee turnover rate. The high turnover rate in Georgia is an indicator of a complex constellation of personal and organizational factors that contribute to child welfare employees’ lack of persistence in CW, and their decisions to leave public child welfare for other positions.
The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) commissioned a study in 2002-2003 to obtain information and insight about the issues relevant to retention and turnover of child welfare staff. In order to accomplish the vision of Safe Futures for Georgia’s children, a key component of success is the stability of the child welfare workforce. Therefore, this study was commissioned by DFCS and support was provided by the Annie B. Casey Foundation to complete an investigation of factors contributing to retention of the child welfare workforce in Georgia. The study was completed under contract with the University of Georgia Research Foundation through the UGA School of Social Work. The need for the study was indicated by the high rate of annual employee turnover each year in Georgia (44%), which is over twice the national average in state agencies (20%). High employee turnover in DFCS creates a tremendous loss by the citizens of Georgia of investments in human, educational, and financial resources. Most importantly, high employee turnover disrupts the continuity and quality of services to Georgia’s children and families in greatest need of CW services. This study is the largest known, most comprehensive statewide study completed at all levels of a state CW organization, about personal and organizational factors that contribute to employee turnover and retention in child welfare. Over the past two decades numerous studies on employee turnover in (CW) have focused on employee turnover and burnout. These studies provide some insights into the psychological stress associated with work in CW and the role such stress plays in employee turnover. However, few comprehensive, statewide studies have been completed that include an additional, important focus on personal and organizational factors that contribute to employee retention in public child welfare. The study summarized here, and described in greater detail in a comprehensive final project report (Ellett, Ellett, & Rugutt, 2003), focused on public CW professional employee turnover and retention, and a larger set of issues related to the education, recruitment, employment, mentoring, and professional development of CW employees in Georgia. The study was also concerned with the continuing need to further professionalize public child welfare in Georgia.
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