Turnover Up as Salaries Stay Low

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As if opening the paycheck isn't depressing enough, a new report from the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) illustrates how poorly youth workers are paid.

Supervisors of child welfare agencies, education day care directors, child protective service workers and residential child care workers "earn less than do persons who install and/or repair telephones," concludes the survey of CWLA member agencies released last month. The data were compiled from nearly 95,000 full-time salaries.

Among the findings: turnover rates are increasing for all types of agencies (going from 16 percent of full-timers at voluntary agencies in 1991 to 27 percent in 1999); salaries tend to be higher in public agencies than in private, voluntary agencies ($39,478 for supervisors in voluntary child welfare agencies, and $54,797 for those in local public agencies); staff sizes are rising, with 70 percent of the agencies expanding their full-time staff over the past five years; and median salaries in voluntary agencies decreased for directors of major programs, residential education directors, lead teachers in day care centers and research staff with a doctorate (the last down 15 percent).

Residential child care workers had one of the lowest median salaries: $21,500 at voluntary agencies and $33,955 at state public agencies. The median salary for those who install or repair residential telephones is $44,876, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Not everyone was doing so badly. CEOs of voluntary child welfare agencies had a median salary of $86,7000, up 10 percent from 1997. In an unusual twist, non-Caucasian CEOs of child welfare agencies made more ($95,745) than did Caucasian CEOs ($85,000).

Low salaries have always been a major issue in youth work, but the matter is getting more attention as agencies struggle with increasing staff turnover. In November the Philadelphia-based Academy of Child and Youth Care Professionals called for a minimum youth worker salary of $30,000 [see Viewpoint, page 59], and pay was among the top issues at a December CWLA symposium, "Confronting the Workforce Crisis."

"We lose staff because our pay is not what it needs to be," one manager from the South Carolina Department of Social Services said at the symposium, which drew dozens of youth agency administrators from around the country.

There is little sign of significant, large-scale change in youth worker salaries. Some states are giving stipends or raises to educational day care workers who go through certain training or certification processes. "There are some interesting initiatives going on, but they are only reaching a small portion of the workforce at this point," says Marcie Whitebrook, former executive director of the D.C.-based Center for the Child Care Workforce, and now a researcher at the Institute of Industrial Relations at the University of California-Berkeley.

Floyd Alwon, Director of Professional Development at CWLA's Boston-based National Center for Consultation and Professional Development, hopes the current worker shortage will prompt agencies to raise salaries. To have long-term impact, he said, "We need to develop a major public relations campaign to communicate with the public and the legislators just what's going on and how critical the problem is."

Contact: CWLA (800) 407-6273.