The Child Welfare League of America recommends no more than 12 active investigations per month per social worker, 17 cases if they are ongoing cases per social worker, and no more than one new case assigned for every six open cases. It also recommends 10 active ongoing cases and four active investigations per social worker. The agency’s standards call for one supervisor per five social workers.
Really good people take jobs at DSS because they have big hearts and want to help children and families. But overwhelming caseloads, low pay, and high stress lead to burnout and turnover. This is supported by outside research:
When children languish in foster care, caseloads rise to untenable levels, and even the most dedicated case workers cannot provide the attention and support that children need. Case workers burn out and leave the profession in very high numbers. The annual turnover rate in the child welfare workforce is 20 percent for public agencies and 40 percent for private agencies. As the cadre of experienced case workers shrinks, the quality of care that children receive diminishes as well. -Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care (May 2004)
Imagine a company that had to replace its entire workforce every five years. It could not survive long.
According to a 2005 article in the Fall River Herald, 80 percent of DSS social workers exceed the caseload of 15 recommended by the Governor’s Special Commission on Foster Care in 1993. Apparently, a third of DSS social workers have more than 18 cases.
In 2001, the Massachusetts Citizens for Children recommended worker caseloads meet the CWL standards in order to reduce burnout and staff turnover and improve the quality of care to families and children.
In an April 2005 article in the Boston Globe, Commissioner Harry Spence says that the DSS budget has not kept pace with inflation and the growing caseload.
A March 2005 story on National Public Radio about Massachusetts’ DSS mentioned that when New York reduced its caseloads, fewer children needed to be removed from their families. It also cited Mass. as ranking third in the nation for children abused while in foster care.
This is not a new issue, it’s not a difficult issue, it’s just one that gets ignored. To the detriment of those who are least able to handle more stress–children in state care and those who are responsible for them.