Missouri has about an 80% turnover rate among child welfare workers on the front lines handling child abuse and neglect cases. They are the ones out there investigating the 60,000 reports made each year through the state’s child abuse and neglect hotline. They are also handling the cases involving the roughly 13,700 foster kids in the state’s care.
State Social Services Department Acting Director Jennifer Tidball tells Missourinet the metro areas tend to have more turnover.
“I think probably some of that is just because that there are other job options in the metro areas around social work or the type of work that we do,” says Tidball. “Kansas City – you talk about the 80% – they are typically have been the highest as far as turnover. But sometimes the impact can be just as great in those smaller areas because you don’t have as many workers.”
Having high turnover in child welfare is not a phenomenon unique to Missouri. The hours, caseloads, surroundings and pay can be challenging. The work hours can vary and the annual salary for these jobs is about $30,000.
“Typically those turnover rates have always been high. They are typically higher when the economy is better because there are different options for individuals,” she says. “Just like in other business, you would have to compete to keep a stable workforce, we’re no different, especially in the work that we do because it’s very difficult work. That’s why I talked about it’s about the pay but it’s also about making sure that the individuals doing that work everyday are supported and valued.”
Tidball says the caseload depends on the area.
“It can be anywhere from 15-20 kids to 30 kids. Sometimes you’re carrying more than one caseload with turnover. There is a standard caseload, and it’s anywhere, I want to say from 12-15 cases, depending on the work. The work looks different – sometimes you are a specialist doing types of work. Sometimes you are a generalist doing all types of work that we do from investigations to actually supporting families when kids are in foster care,” she says.
Tidball says the state has loosened the education requirements for these jobs and looks more at experience to help fill them.
“We’ve had a lot of success recently. So we’ve just in recruiting individuals in the past wouldn’t have qualified to do the work and have a passion to do it. It’s not just about finding a job. It’s a matter of their seeking us out,” says Tidball.
Then there are the safety issues these workers are running into. According to Tidball, some of the employees feel safer going into client homes without law enforcement. During a hearing Monday, Tidball told the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect – made of up Representatives and Senators – that she worries about the workers, often young females, going into rough neighborhoods and homes by themselves. She says many of them won’t think twice because they’re concerned about the kids inside.
“I always just joke with a clipboard and a state car to go into neighborhoods where law enforcement will not go in at all or they won’t go in without bulletproof vests and 2 or 3 squad cars,” says Tidball. “That concerns me from a safety point for our workers.”
The remark prompted Senator Andrew Koenig of the St. Louis suburb of Manchester to ask if workers are getting injured often during family visits.
“Injuries aren’t as prevalent as threats,” she says. “We have workers where we have threats from typically it’s family members.”
Tidball says some workers are getting social media threats that have led to individuals getting taken away by law enforcement.
“It’s about the actual safety but it’s also about workers feeling safe so they can do their job,” says Tidball. “Because I think about in terms of those workers going into those neighborhoods or actually looking behind their back all the time because they have a credible threat out against them.”
In a final report released Monday by a task force on child safety, it recommends the workers document when law enforcement refuses to enter homes to assist in child welfare cases. Tidball thinks the records could help to resolve the issue.
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