Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #5: Helping Kids by Helping Caseworkers

Anthony Abshire, 29, a U.S. Army veteran and graduate social work student at the University of Michigan. Photo by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C.

Today we highlight the recommendation of Anthony Abshire, 29, a U.S. Army veteran and graduate social work student at the University of Michigan.

The Proposal

Abshire proposes three moves to improve the quality and stability of the child welfare workforce. He would have Congress contribute to scaling up evidence-based models of caseworker support, and commission a national report on the child welfare workforce in the hopes of identifying some best practices.

Abshire would also amend the rules of Title IV-E, the entitlement program that provides most federal child welfare funding, to permit spending on therapy for caseworkers and other resources to assist with secondary trauma.

The Argument

Forty-four percent of caseworker turnover is experienced in the first year of employment, Abshire said. “Like the young people they serve, caseworkers experience trauma just by being on the job.”

He notes the success of Zero to Three’s Safe Babies Court Teams and other strategies for improving caseworker management, there is room for Congress and the executive branch to expand promising practices.

Boundless Futures, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

In Their Own Words

“During my time in foster care, I lived in three states and 45 foster homes, one group home, and a psychiatric institute. I had roughly 30 caseworkers between all those placements, but I only met about 10 of them. The rest of the caseworkers I had were just names on paper. It was clear to me that even the ones I did meet never read my file, and they were often dismissed within a month or two after receiving it.”

The Chronicle’s Take

We’ve been reading the FYI proposals for years now, and this might be the first proposal we have seen that is aimed at improving services to the caseworkers and other frontline professionals in child welfare. Which of course is indirectly an improvement for youths – better, happier workforce, greater likelihood of quality support for youth and families.

His ideas for federal involvement in this area are sound. There is a Quality Improvement Center funded by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to focus on workforce development issues, and who better to head up development of a national look at the needs and best practices. You would probably not need legislation to expand the use of Title IV-E for more caseworker supports; the executive branch might be able to take that on itself, as it did recently in expanding IV-E to support legal fees for kids and parents.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1117 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.