Child Welfare Workforce Study Reveals Mixed Turnover Rates

Fewer child welfare staff are leaving to work outside their county agencies, according to CalSWEC’s 2011 Public Child Welfare Workforce Study. The study, which CalSWEC conducts every 3 or 4 years, consists of two surveys: the Agency Administrative Data Survey and the Individual Worker Survey.

The study’s statistics are part of the information that the federal Children’s Bureau requests from all the states for their Annual Program Services Reviews. CalSWEC also gathers information on turnover because of its relevance to training and re-training.

CalSWEC Program Evaluation Specialist Dr. Sherrill Clark provides the following selected results, as reported by the counties, from the turnover study of the larger workforce study. She explains that not every county submitted turnover data, and only the state rates are reported here; there are differences between the regions as well.

Survey Results

  • External Turnover occurs when a worker leaves the county agency. The survey asked: “How many child welfare staff have left your agency to work outside the county agency?”
    • The 2011 external turnover rate for social work assistants is down to 3.9% from 5.2% in 2008. 
    • The rate for case-carrying social workers is down to 7.1% from 8.6%. 
    • The supervisors’ rate is down to 2.5% from 4.5%.
    • Only the non-case-carrying social workers’ external turnover rate is up slightly, to 5.2% from 4.7%.
  • Internal Turnover within the agency occurs when child welfare workers move to another department within the county. The survey asked: “How many child welfare staff have left the child welfare services department but not the agency, e.g., who have moved to mental health, public health, or probation?”
    • The overall statewide internal turnover rate of those who stayed with the county agency but left child welfare is minimal.
  • Internal Turnover within Child Welfare represents workers moving from one unit to another within the child welfare department. The survey asked: “How many child welfare staff have changed unit assignments or have had lateral transfers within the child welfare services, e.g., from emergency response to adoptions?”
    • This turnover category has the highest rates, especially for case-carrying social workers and supervisors. 
    • Large numbers in this category may reflect structural changes/reorganization in county agencies that report high lateral transfer rates. In the Agency Administrative Survey, in their responses to the open-ended question about change, several respondents commented about the uncertainty due to the state realignment of services, anticipating county services reorganization.
    • Implications for the workforce of major structural changes are that external turnover rates may rise in the coming years, especially if the lateral moves are involuntary and if are other jobs exist for people to go to. From these data, we do not know whether these moves are involuntary. On the other hand, we know from the Career Path Retention Studies of the IV-E graduates 3 and 5 years out that voluntary lateral moves are regarded positively.
  • Internal Turnover within child welfare represents those who have been promoted within the child welfare department. The survey asked: “How many child welfare staff have been promoted within child welfare services, e.g., from social work assistant to social worker or supervisor; line worker to supervisor?”
    • The reported rates of promotion are low. The highest rates are supervisor and case-carrying social workers.

Other types of turnover are retirements and involuntary dismissals for which CalSWEC does not have 2011 statistics. It does have information reported on lay-offs, a type of involuntary turnover, which appears to be minimal this time.

For more information, please contact Program Evaluation Specialist Dr. Sherrill Clark.