More Caseworkers, More Pay, More Turnover

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While the most common prescriptions for fixing overburdened child welfare systems are to decrease staff caseloads and increase salaries, here’s a new and sobering case study: Texas did just that, and more caseworkers quit.

Even laptop computers and retention bonuses didn’t stop the exodus.

After the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services “increased hiring and decreased caseloads,” turnover among Child Protective Services (CPS) workers increased from 23 percent in 2004 to 34.1 percent in 2007, a report from the Texas state auditor states.

What went wrong? “You can pay them a million bucks a year, but if you give them the impossible, it’s still too much work,” said Myko Gedutis, lead organizer for the department’s employees in the Texas State Employees Union.

Gedutis said workloads went up because of excessive paperwork and increased contact with supervisors through the new laptops. While the devices help caseworkers stay better organized, Gedutis said, being in constant contact with supervisors means “they’re basically being asked to work 24 hours a day.”

The auditor’s report noted that caseworkers were logging more overtime.

The report found that staffing levels in the system increased 31 percent statewide, from 3,139 employees in 2004 to 4,104 employees in 2007. With more staff members on board, caseloads for CPS caseworkers who perform investigations decreased from a daily average of 42.8 cases per investigator in 2005 to 25.3 cases per investigator in 2007, the report found.

Meanwhile, the average base salary for a CPS caseworker increased 3 percent, from $32,803 in 2004 to $33,815 in 2007.

In addition, certain CPS caseworkers got $3,000 retention bonuses, while CPS investigators and supervisors got $5,000 stipends.

The increased salaries and number of caseworkers and the reduced caseloads not only failed to reduce turnover, but overtime costs rose as well: from $1.75 million in 2004 to $6.98 million in 2007.

Department spokesman Patrick Crimmins noted that turnover went down from 34.1 percent in 2007 to 30.5 percent in 2008. He said it takes time for the retention bonuses, stipends and reduced caseloads to make a dent in turnover.

“They haven’t worked yet, as successfully as we had hoped,” Crimmins said. “But turnover is improving, and we think it will continue to decrease.”

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, said the lower turnover followed a decrease in the number of children who were removed from their homes.

“It was only around 2007 that Texas finally wised up and started taking away fewer children,” Wexler said. “Now that that is happening, I suspect the caseworker turnover problem will ease.”

The auditor’s report (.pdf).