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Report: Solving CPS workforce shortage requires comprehensive, coordinated approach

Report: Solving CPS workforce shortage requires comprehensive, coordinated approach

Ohio’s county child protective services (CPS) agencies face unprecedented caseworker turnover, unmanageable caseloads and unfilled vacancies, but a new report aims to help the state and counties improve workforce recruitment and retention.

The Ohio State University College of Social Work and PCSAO released Building a 21st Century Children Services Workforce with recommendations that Ohio take a comprehensive, coordinated approach to solving a workforce crisis that has serious implications for those served.

While the workforce has experienced high turnover for years, the global pandemic has exacerbated the crisis. “Ensuring the safety, wellbeing and permanency of children is highly complex and demanding work,” said Angela Sausser, PCSAO’s executive director. “Turnover is costly to taxpayers, increases workload and stress for those who remain and ultimately leads to poorer outcomes for the children and families we serve.”

Turnover and hiring lags have been found to increase the length of foster care placements as well as the risk of child maltreatment recurrence, Sausser continued. “County agencies struggle to meet families’ immediate needs, much less implement state and federal reforms, when they do not have a stable workforce,” she said.

Research relied on a staff survey of 20 representative county agencies, focus groups, a literature review, an analysis of successful workforce strategies in similar systems and development of a county toolkit. “The OSU College of Social Work relied on recently published research as well as data gathered directly from caseworkers, supervisors and administrators,” said lead researcher Rebecca Phillips. “A theme that was particularly emphasized by the evidence is that complex problems require complex solutions. It is therefore imperative that the CPS workforce crisis be addressed both locally and statewide.”

State- and county-level recommendations include enhanced benefits, a public awareness campaign and increased staff diversity, among others. “County children services agencies stand ready to partner with the state to implement these recommendations in order to positively impact the child protection workforce and lead to better outcomes for children and families,” Sausser said.

Other research findings:

  • Increases in tenure length appeared to be associated with lower levels of job satisfaction and higher levels of continuance commitment, which suggests that as employees remain working in a role, they feel decreasing satisfaction and an increasing necessity to maintain current employment.
  • Respondents expressed an interest in increasing their direct interactions and providing more preventative services to families, but spent too much time on paperwork and rule compliance.
  • Caseworkers had frequent experiences of being disrespected and belittled by interagency professionals, who simultaneously expected them to resolve issues far outside their scope or capacity.