Racial disparity and disproportionality are well-known phenomena in the U.S. child welfare system. Decades of research documents persistent overrepresentation of Native American and African American children in child welfare, as well as disparate negative outcomes for children and families of Color. Less focus has been devoted to dynamics of disparate racial representation within the child welfare workforce. This study explores racial diversity and inclusive representation in child welfare organizations, including demographic differences between White workers and workers of Color (WOC), the degree to which WOC are equitably represented in all roles throughout agencies, and the influence of racial identity on workers’ intentions to remain employed in their agencies.
Seven hundred fifty-seven public child welfare workers employed in urban settings in three locales were included in this sample. Demographic and workforce related data were collected on topics including perceptions about agency climate, intention to remain employed, burnout, and job satisfaction. Bivariate analyses were conducted to identify factors related to intention to remain employed and demographic differences between White workers and workers of Color. Hierarchical regression explored how agency, individual, and racial factors predict workers’ intention to remain employed.
Workers of Color were significantly more likely to be employed in caseworker positions, and White workers were more likely to be supervisors and managers (p = 0.015). WOC were 47% of the overall sample, yet among supervisors they were underrepresented (40%), and this underrepresentation increased at the manager/director level, where WOC held just over 29% of such positions. At the same time, WOC experienced lower levels of burnout (p = 0.01), yet they were less likely to intend to remain employed at their agency (p = 0.01). The final regression model found that agency-level factors (e.g., psychological climate) accounted for 13.8% of the variance in predicting intent to remain employed. The addition of personal factors (e.g., burnout, job satisfaction) added another 12%, and race alone accounted for another 1%. While not large, the inclusion of race was a significant contributor to the overall model (p = 0.02).
Conclusions and Implications:
Recruitment, retention and promotion has been more difficult for Workers of Color than for White workers in child welfare. Findings from this research indicate that the reasons for less diversity at supervisory and management levels may be more nuanced than previously thought. While White workers and WOC have many demographic and perceptual similarities regarding their work, WOC may be more resilient, as evidenced by significantly lower levels of burnout, yet less likely to intend to remain employed. Further research is warranted to study why this is and to devise strategies to retain and promote these valuable workers.
As U.S. demographics change and people of Color comprise a larger share of the population, more organizations will likely have more racially diverse staff. However, agencies that can build inclusive organizational climates, including representation of WOC in supervisory and leadership roles, may improve overall workforce well-being and retention, and thus their capacity to serve children and families.