Report: High Stress and Low Pay Are Biggest Concerns for California’s Child Welfare Workforce

SOURCE: California Child Welfare Co-Investment Partnership

SUBJECT: Child Welfare Workforce

TYPE: Child Welfare


A new report takes a closer look at California’s struggle to recruit and maintain an adequate and diverse child welfare workforce.

Among the key takeaways from the latest edition of Insights, published by the California Child Welfare Co-Investment Partnership, is the role public perception plays in job satisfaction and turnover rates among caseworkers with child welfare agencies.

When stories emerge about extreme cases of abuse or neglect occurring after a family has had contact with child protective agencies, the resulting media storm can often bring an avalanche of negative attention to the social workers involved.

“The stigma associated with the child welfare caseworker role promotes burnout. If it is always assumed that you are the bad guy, it hurts your heart,” said Amber Twitchell, director of the Northern California-based nonprofit VOICES Youth Center, in the report.

Emotional exhaustion, stress and job satisfaction are three of the top four reasons most highly linked to turnover among social workers in the child welfare field. Nationally, turnover rates for child welfare workers sit at 20 percent for public agencies and 40 percent for private agencies, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Every social worker lost can cost an agency between 30 and 200 percent of the departing employee’s annual salary, according to a study cited in the report. This encompasses not just the administrative costs of hiring and staffing, but also “human costs,” like increased emotional exhaustion from remaining social workers who have to take on heavier workloads to compensate.

The report suggests agencies should devote a greater focus on “secondary traumatic stress” and developing training and policies designed to manage it.

“Given the intensity and often traumatic nature of their work, child welfare caseworkers may require even greater levels of organizational support than most professions in order to re-energize and heal,” the report states.

A related concern addressed in the report is a shrinking hiring pool. The number of social workers statewide is projected to grow, as is the demand for child welfare social workers. But this group is the lowest paid among four major types of social workers. Experts predict more and more of those young professionals are expected to opt for social work jobs in higher-paying healthcare and substance abuse fields.

To that end, the state’s Title IV-E Stipend Program, which provides funds to 22 schools of social work in California to support professional education for child welfare workforce candidates, received praise from the report’s authors for increasing and equalizing access to child welfare social-work education.

The report also credits these programs for diversifying California’s social worker population, both racially and economically, though it also notes that “recruitment strategies have not kept pace with the rapid growth and needs of California’s Hispanic communities.”

The report also highlights student loan forgiveness programs, which help college graduates eliminate some of their school debt in return for working in public service or the nonprofit sector.

“It is vital to maintain these programs to ensure the national child welfare workforce represents the families it serves,” the report says.

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Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change 121 Articles
General assignment reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach her at

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