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How KVC Kansas Is Supporting and Retaining Its Child Welfare Staff

child welfare staff

Highlights:

  • Child welfare social work has a higher than average staff turnover rate.
  • The national social worker shortage and opioid epidemic have exacerbated the problem.
  • By focusing on supporting staff, KVC Kansas increased its staff retention by 17% in just one year.
  • KVC Kansas is using innovative ways to recruit new staff.

Child welfare workers are trained, caring professionals who serve critical roles in our communities. They help protect children, strengthen families, and work alongside people to identify resources and navigate complex systems. At KVC Kansas, we employ about 350 licensed social workers and hundreds more highly-trained family support workers. Our team members help strengthen families to remain safely together, provide case management for children in foster care, coordinate foster family care and adoption, and provide aftercare to ensure stability.

While child welfare work is often difficult and emotionally demanding, it shouldn’t lead to burnout.

As communities, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, we must do everything we can do competitively compensate and adequately support the people in these roles. They are on the front lines, caring for children who have experienced abuse or neglect and helping adults who are trying to overcome cycles of violence and substance use. The rate at which we are able to support and retain talented workers is related to the outcomes of youth and families. The more worker stability and consistency that a child and his/her family experiences; the greater their chances at success.

National Social Worker Shortage

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Turnover of frontline workers, as well as supervisory and management staff, is a major concern in many child welfare agencies. In some jurisdictions, worker turnover is as high as 90 percent per year, while in others, turnover is fairly minimal.”

The U.S. Social Worker Workforce Report Card report states that, “the number of states with shortage ratios more severe than the current national ratio will increase from 11 states in 2012 to 30 states by 2030 and the nation will experience a total shortfall of over 195,000 social workers.”

Many organizations, including KVC Kansas, are looking at the root causes of this national crisis and developing both short- and long-term strategies to address it. The consensus is that the opioid epidemic – a huge increase in addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin across the nation – is exacerbating the problem by increasing the number of children and families involved in the child welfare system.

Making KVC Kansas a Great Place to Work

At KVC Kansas, the turnover rate of our licensed social workers has been in line with national average of 30-50 percent per year. For nearly all of our 20-year partnership with the state, we were on the low end of this range.

In 2015, however, we were beginning to lose talented staff at a rate that was too high. The national average was becoming unacceptable to us and to the families we serve. While there are many factors we can’t control, we knew there were a few strategies we could put into place to better support and retain our staff.

Over the last two years, we have solicited feedback from every employee of our organization using a range of survey and discussion formats. From there, we researched, analyzed and implemented dozens of new staff support and retention strategies. We:

  • Increased salaries for licensed case managers and supervisors;
  • Worked with our state agency partner to extend our family preservation and foster care contracts, giving our employees greater peace of mind about their future with our organization;
  • Identified strategic focus areas to unify our team members around common goals. Those were “Providing effective, quality services to children and families” and “Making KVC a great place to work.” In more recent months, these came together in a single, wildly important goal: “To safely reduce the number of children whom we serve in out-of-home care from appx. 3,800 to 3,500.” This includes preventing children from entering foster care (to the extent we are able; many factors are outside our control) and safely reducing the length of time children are in foster care. Our rallying cry has become to help children safely reunify with their birth families or be matched with a loving adoptive family as soon as possible, in accordance with their case plan goals;
  • Formed workgroups of staff from different teams and offices to increase trust, collaboration, inclusion and engagement. These workgroups initiated dozens of ideas, including a new quarterly training retreat for all supervisory staff;
  • Formed teams of people to serve families, so that licensed staff with higher caseloads have support from unlicensed staff with administrative or other tasks;
  • Provided financial support on an as-needed basis to help staff obtain their social work license, renew their social work license, or complete their education;
  • Made our benefits package as rich as possible. KVC Kansas offers paid time off; employer-subsidized medical insurance; employer-paid life, disability and dental insurance; company smartphone for field staff and leadership; employee assistance program; training and professional development and much, much more;
  • Rolled out increased technology support and efficiencies including wi-fi hotspots, mobile logs, electronic case plans, electronic assessments and more;
  • Implemented a range of new perks like casual Fridays, bring your dog to work days, wellness programs and more.

We are proud to report that, as a result of these many initiatives, we created a 17% increase in employee retention in fiscal year 2017 over the previous year. At KVC Kansas, people matter … and that starts with our own people.

While there is still work to do, this is a significant improvement in just one year. All levels of leadership are actively involved in supporting staff so staff can, in turn, provide the best care to children and families.

Attracting New Professionals to Work at KVC Kansas

While supporting and keeping talented staff is our first priority, successful recruiting and hiring is a strong second. On any given day, our website (www.kvc.org/careers) features dozens of job opportunities such as Youth Care Transporter, Family Support Worker, Foster Family Worker, Intake Coordinator, Case Manager, Permanency Supervisor and more.

Similar to our retention strategy, we have implemented dozens of ideas on the recruitment side. We:

  • Contacted past employees who we wanted to return to our agency;
  • Increased our employee referral bonus;
  • Increased communication with colleges and universities with social work programs as well as other partner organizations;
  • Increased our traditional and digital advertising of open positions;
  • Produced original blog and video content highlighting the rewards of child welfare social work;
  • Worked with our state agency partner to explore whether people with four-year college degrees related to social work, such as psychology, sociology, family/human services, etc.), may be eligible for in-demand case management solutions.

These strategies have resulted in hundreds of people applying for KVC Kansas positions and we have hired dozens of people whose education, skills and values match the needs of our organization.

There has never been a more difficult time to recruit, support and retain child welfare social work staff, but it’s also never been more important. We’re not a perfect organization, but we continue this work each day because our staff members matter and so do the children and families we serve. Our talented team members deserve supportive work environments, fulfilling careers and the opportunity to make a real, long-lasting difference in people’s lives.

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