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«1 CHAPTER ONE Introduction Workforce recruitment and retention is a national crisis in public child welfare agencies, with annual turnover rates ...»

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Workforce recruitment and retention is a national crisis in public child welfare

agencies, with annual turnover rates conservatively estimated at between 30% and 44%

(Conrad, 2005; General Accounting Office [GAO], 1995 & 2003; Gunderson & Osborne,

2001; Reagh, 1994). The average tenure of new workers is between six months and two

years (Daley, 1979; Denton, Culver & Burroughs, 2001; Drake & Yadama, 1996; GAO, 2003; Harrison, 1980; Jayartne & Chess, 1984; National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 2003; Rycraft, 1994). In 1995, the General Accounting Office (GAO) found that 90% of states have difficulty in recruiting, hiring, and retaining public child welfare workers (NASW, 2003; Rossi, Lipsey, & Freeman, 2004). Due to this high turnover, veteran workers are defined as those who work longer than two years in a public child welfare agency (Anderson, 2000; Conrad, 2005).

Clearly, with high turnover, there are costs to workers, supervisors, administrators, and clients. As a result of this turnover, new workers must be recruited, hired, and trained (Daley, 1979). High turnover also places greater demands on workers and supervisors due to increased workloads, which may lead to low staff morale, burnout and even more workers leaving (Anderson, 2000; American Public Human Services Association [APHSA], 2005; Gunderson & Osborne, 2001; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995b; Russell, 1988; Yassen, 1995). Finally, uncovered caseloads create a discontinuity in services to children and their families (APHSA, 2005; Winefield & Barlow, 1995).

Over the last several decades, the child welfare workforce research focus has shifted. During the 1970’s and 1980’s many child welfare workforce studies focused on 2 turnover (Denton, et al., 2001; Harrison, 1980; Jayartne & Chess, 1984; Reagh, 1994;

Rycraft, 1994). In the 1990s the research concentrated on worker retention (Anderson, 2000; Ellett, 2000; Reagh, 1994; Rycraft, 1994; Samantrai, 1992), and more recent studies have combined these two concerns (Barak, Nissley, & Levin, 2001; Denton, et al., 2001).

The reasons for turnover among the public child welfare workforce can be summarized under three major themes: 1) dissatisfaction with job; 2) excessive stress and burnout; and 3) a lack of support from supervisors and organizations (Annie E. Casey, 2003; APHSA, 2005; Barak, et al., 2001; Bernotavicz, 1997; Denton, et al., 2001; GAO, 2003; Gunderson & Osborne, 2001; Whitaker, Reich, Reid, Williams, & Woodside, 2004). Overwhelmingly studies identified a desire to protect children and a commitment to help others as the primary reasons workers are attracted to, and remain employed in public child welfare (Alwon & Reitz, 2000; Cicero-Reese & Black, 1998; Denton, et al., 2001; North Carolina Division of Social Services [NCDSS] Children’s Services, 2001;

Reagh, 1994). Workers have a sense of efficacy; they need to feel they are making a difference in the lives of children and families (Ellett, Ellett, Kelley, & Noble, 1996;

Rycraft, 1994). Kaye and Jordan-Evans (2005) researched worker retention for over a decade and found, in addition to fair pay, workers want challenging, meaningful work; a chance to learn and grow; and a supportive work environment with co-workers and supervisors who recognize and respect them. These findings are crucial to engaging and retaining a competent workforce and support the focus of this research on organizational

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Public child welfare workers handle several dozen cases simultaneously, follow policies and procedures that monitor and protect the child, while at the same time dealing with hostile parents and distraught or numb children. The work is physically, cognitively, and emotionally taxing on the worker (APHSA, 2005). In addition to heavy workloads, poor salaries, and high caseloads, vicarious trauma is noted as a cause of high turnover (Figley, 1999; Pearlman & McCann, 1992; Pearlman & Saakvitne a & b, 1995; Salus, 2004). Yet little emphasis has been placed on helping the worker cope with the vicarious trauma that may occur as a result of their work (Denton, et al., 2001; Figley, 1995;

Samantrai, 1990; Yassen, 1995). Vicarious traumatization (VT) is the term coined by McCann and Pearlman in 1990 to describe the transformation of the inner core of the helper (from hopeful to cynical and pessimistic) that can result from someone hearing about or seeing the results of other people’s traumatic experiences (Dane, 2000; Denton, et al., 2001; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995a).

Public child welfare supervisors are expected to provide support to workers making difficult case decisions by interpreting policies and monitoring timelines so the case is able to progress through the system as required by federal law and state statutes (GAO, 2003). The supervisor provides guidance to the workers about the tasks that need to be accomplished to protect the child; they are also in a position to provide the emotional support to help the worker deal with their feelings and thoughts related to each case (GAO, 2003; Whitaker, et al., 2004).

Purpose The purpose of this study is to develop and validate measures to evaluate the

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mitigate the effects of VT and decrease child welfare workforce turnover. The measures were tested with Department of Social Service (DSS) workers in Virginia. Constructivist Self Development Theory (CSDT) is used to inform this study.

Support for Study CSDT offers a framework for identifying, understanding, assessing, and intervening to mitigate the negative effects of VT on the worker and is used as a basis for this study. CSDT defines trauma as those experiences identified as traumatic by the person impacted instead of the event itself (Saakvitne, Tennen, & Affleck, 1998) and respects the meaning the survivor assigns to the event (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995a).

According to CSDT, trauma can affect one or more of five areas of the self: frame of reference, self-capacities, psychological needs, ego resources, and perceptual and memory systems. Survivors of trauma adapt in several ways, ranging from devastation with permanent or temporary impairment to resiliency, growth and thriving after experiencing, witnessing, or learning about a traumatic event (Harvey, 1996; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995b). Adaptation to trauma involves interplay between life experiences, a specific traumatic event, and the developing self (Nelson-Gardell & Harris, 2003).

Saakvitne and Pearlman (1995a) recommend intervening at the organizational, professional, and personal ecological levels to help workers mitigate the negative effects of VT (Wandersman & Florin, 2003; Yassen, 1995). Protective factors include providing support for the worker at each of these ecological levels and implementing coping strategies that meet each person’s individual needs and lifestyle (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995b). According to Bell, Kulkarni and Dalton “CSDT maintains a dual focus between

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present can feel empowering for clients and workers and reduce the risk of VT” (2003, p.

467). They recommend additional research to understand how and to what degree workers may be affected by VT and which workplace strategies are most salient in ameliorating the negative effects of VT. The current study incorporates these recommendations.

Research combining issues of workforce retention, VT, and supportive supervision is crucial for public child welfare. Supervisors who are defined as supportive by their supervisees are a primary resource in retaining workers in public child welfare and mitigating the negative effects of VT (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995a: Salus, 2004) and preventing burnout (Daley, 1979). Some research studies suggest VT negatively impacts workers’ ability to be effective and can lead to workers leaving the agency (Daley, 1979; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995b).

Organizational (specifically supervisory) support regarding the issue of VT, job satisfaction, and workers’ intention to leave or remain employed in public child welfare is not being measured. There are several instruments which assess the symptoms of VT and areas of the self affected by VT identified and defined by CSDT. New measures to assess the intervention strategies utilized within the organizational and professional ecological levels to mitigate VT and decrease workforce turnover are needed. The measures developed for this study are intended to meet this need. In order to build a foundation for developing these measures, a review of the literature related to child welfare workforce retention, VT, supportive supervision and CSDT is presented in Chapter 2. In chapter 3, the methods used to develop, validate, and determine reliability are described. The

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questions. Chapter 5 summarizes the findings of this study, provides recommendations for future research, and explores the practical application of these measures for research,

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Each section in this chapter is couched in an historical context; major terms and concepts are identified and defined. The research studies conducted to date are summarized by exploring their purpose, samples, supporting theories, measurements, findings, and recommendations. To provide a context for the current study, the first section will summarize pertinent workforce retention and turnover literature. In section two, VT and its affects on worker retention are explored. The third section focuses on the importance of the supervisory role as instrumental in providing emotional support to frontline workers who are at risk of experiencing VT and leaving their jobs. Section four;

will present CSDT as a frame for the development of the measures for this study.

Public Child Welfare Workforce Retention A child welfare staffing crisis was identified by the Children’s Bureau as early as 1960, with agencies experiencing difficulty recruiting and retaining competent and committed workers (Alwon & Reitz, 2000; Child Welfare League of America [CWLA], 2001; Department of Health and Social Services [DHSS] Children’s Bureau, 2005;

Zlotnick, 1996). In this section turnover issues, theories of worker burnout and job satisfaction, and research and measurements are summarized to establish the context for the current study.

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Burnout and turnover among child welfare workers create a problem of crisis proportions, with turnover rates between 46% and 90% over a two year period being

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January 2004 and March 2005, nearly 40% of local Departments of Social Service (DSS) lost at least one-quarter (25%) of their front-line staff and 40% of the state agencies had one-quarter or more of their service positions vacant as of March 2005 (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission [JLARC], 2005).

Turnover is a serious problem, yet 60% of turnover is preventable (Cyphers, 2001; CWLA, 2001; GAO, 2003; NASW, 2003). Preventable turnover is defined by the American Public Human Services Association as staff who leave the child welfare agency for reasons other than retirement, death, marriage, parenting, returning to school, or a spousal job move (APHSA, 2005). The most common reasons noted for rapid turnover include limited or inadequate supervision, insufficient training, high caseloads, overwhelming workloads (which include voluminous paperwork), a lack of autonomy and decision-making power, office politics, and a distrustful work environment (Alwon & Reitz, 2000; APHSA, 2005; Bernotavicz, 1997; GAO, 2003; Harrison, 1995;

Samantrai, 1990; Vinokur-Kaplan, 1991; Whitaker, et al., 2004). Recently VT is being explored as another cause of workforce turnover in public child welfare (Bell, et al., 2003; Dane, 2000; Figley, 1995; Freidman, 2002; Meyers & Cornille, 2002; NelsonGardell & Harris, 2003; Nissly, et al., 2005; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995b). The worker experiencing VT or burnout either leaves the job or becomes ineffective, which can progress to maltreating clients (Bednar, 2003; Daley, 1979).

Theories of burnout and job satisfaction.

Burnout, job satisfaction, and worker retention are strongly correlated (Bednar, 2003; Silver, Poulin, & Manning, 1997). Due to this correlation many workforce studies

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issues (Brody, 2000; Daley, 1979; Drake & Yadama, 1996; Ellet, 2000; Jayarante & Chess, 1984).

Much of the workforce literature focuses on burnout as a reason for job dissatisfaction and turnover. Burnout is defined as the emotional exhaustion experienced by workers, gradually eroding one’s sense of personal accomplishment. It can lead to depersonalization of clients, as well as workers isolating themselves from their coworkers and other supports (Figley, 1999). Burnout refers to the stresses related to the work environment. These include time spent on paperwork, travel, and in court (Alwon & Reitz, 2000; Daley, 1979); long hours and on-call duty interfering with personal and family time (Annie E. Casey, 2003; APHSA, 2005; Harrison, 1995; Russell, 1988;

Samantrai, 1992; Vinokur-Kaplan, 1991); and insufficient service resources for families and children (Alwon & Reitz, 2000; APHSA, 2005). High stress jobs with low rewards, or where minimal goals (necessary for job satisfaction) are unachievable contribute to burnout (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995b).

Job satisfaction is an emotional state resulting from a positive appraisal of one’s job situation which is associated with the characteristics and demands of one’s work (Acker, 2004). Child welfare workers are often motivated by a sense of personal mission, accomplishment, and fulfillment (Annie E. Casey, 2003; Bednar, 2003; Cicero-Reese & Black, 1998). For these workers basic job support and recognition make a significant difference in job satisfaction (Alwon & Reitz, 2000; Annie E. Casey, 2003; APHSA, 2005: Dane, 2000; NASW, 2003; Reagh, 1994; Rycraft, 1994; Salus, 2004; Zlotnik, DePanfilis, Daining, & Lane, 2005). Given the current workforce crisis, determining

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study will identify factors related to job satisfaction among public child welfare workers in Virginia.

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