Turnover has been a longstanding problem in Public Child Welfare Services (PCWS). The goal of creating and maintaining a stable, competent workforce that delivers effective services to the children and families that compose the clientele served by PCWS organizations is consistently impeded by ongoing problems with turnover. Yet, the need to professionalize the PCWS workforce has been voiced by many researchers (Ellett & Leighninger, 2007; Fox et al, 2003).
The purpose of the current study is to better understand how to retain PCWS workers with professional social work degrees. Building upon Landsman's (2001) model, the study examines the effects of social work education (i.e., BSW, MSW, Title IV-E participation), organizational factors (i.e., supervisor support, peer support), and individual attributes (i.e., service orientation, gender, ethnicity) on retention in the agency and the field. Job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and commitment to the field (CWS) were included in the model as mediators between the predictors and retention outcomes.
The sample was composed of 218 child welfare workers with BSW or MSW degrees. The analysis consisted of two parts. A series of path models were estimated with SEM using Mplus 4.0. The initial model was the most parsimonious model. However, the model was subsequently modified by adding additional paths based on the modification indices and a series of chi-square tests. Finally, using the best fitting model, a multi-group analysis was performed to explore how the paths in the model were different across two groups of PCWS social workers: early career (<5 years in CWS) and mid/late career (> 5 years in CWS).
RESULTS AND IMPLICATIONS
The findings of the study indicate that supervisor support, service orientation, emotional exhaustion, and personal accomplishment had direct effects on job satisfaction in the expected directions. Job satisfaction had indirect effects on retention through two types of commitment. The findings concerning service orientation, supervisor support and emotional exhaustion are consistent with previous studies (Drake & Yadama, 1996; Landsman, 2001, 2008). However, there were some relationships that were unique to this study. For instance, an overall sense of personal accomplishment predicted job satisfaction and those who participated in Title IV-E Programs were less likely to report intent to remain in their agencies or in the Field of CWS than those had not been supported by Title IV-E.
The unexpected finding that those who were supported by Title IV-E were less likely to remain either in their PCWS agencies or the Field of CWS was disheartening. Among the subsample of early career social workers, Title IV-E participation did not have significant negative effects on the retention outcomes. However, Title IV-E involvement did have significant negative effects on retention outcomes among mid and late career PCWS workers.
Possible conclusions will be discussed, including: comments on the nature of Title IV-E programs, the notion of “realistic previews” experienced by students in PCWS field placements, and potentially erroneous conceptualizations of retention in PCWS as career-enduring in nature.