Abstract: Telework in the Time of Coronavirus: Evaluation of Washington State's Telework Intervention for Child Welfare (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

Telework in the Time of Coronavirus: Evaluation of Washington State's Telework Intervention for Child Welfare

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
John Fluke, PhD, Professor, University of Colorado, Aurora, CO
Background and Purpose: Presented are aspects of research conducted on behalf of Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to determine if a work-at-home policy (Telework) is effective in improving workforce and child welfare outcomes. One hypothesis is that greater flexibility in working conditions results in improved retention of DCYF child welfare staff reducing turnover. While reductions in turnover are the principal concern, it is also anticipated that Telework could be associated with other improvements in workforce indicators such as job satisfaction, and organizational climate, and may lead to improved outcomes for children and families. In the midst of implementing the intervention study Washington State was faced with the necessity of implementing measures to slow the COVID-19 pandemic. Agency wide implementation of telework was one of these. This paper will report on aspect of the implementation of the original telework policy and the adaptation of policy to address the pandemic as it impacted the evaluation design and potential evaluation findings with an emphasis on knowledge gained due to the dramatic and unanticipated shift in work throughout the agency.

Methods: The study was designed as a cluster random control trial where intervention and control groups of staff are distinguished by DCYF office. Across the 47 offices half were designated either intervention or control based on random selection stratified by Region. Based on the inclusion/exclusion criteria approximately 1,200 staff were eligible to participate in telework over the implementation time frame. As designed the eligible staff in control offices would have been able to participate in telework 9 months after their colleagues in the intervention offices. This condition was suspended after 6 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consistent with the QIC-WD cross-site design, data collection includes survey, interview, and HR and Child Welfare administrative data. Data collection processes continue through the pandemic and this paper focuses on data collected pre and post the pandemic emergency measures.

Results: Preliminary results from a statewide survey of 511 telework eligible staff indicate that over 83% were teleworking by the end of March 2020; with 46% teleworking due to public health reasons. From March 2020 interview data respondents are generally teleworking 4 days a week; 1 day in the office. Many who had not been teleworking found it more productive and plan to telework if DCYF continues the policy after the emergency. Additional result from these sources will be presented.

Conclusions and Implications: Beyond the possibility that telework may improve child welfare workforce outcomes such as turnover, the COVID-19 emergency has forced agencies to adjust to telework. The results from the evaluation of a telework study implemented as the emergency unfolded presents an opportunity to leverage the research to understand the broader impacts of telework. One of the key preliminary findings is that required implementation of telework may have modified staff and management attitudes in favor of telework in child welfare. Additional analysis of the impacts of telework before, during, and post pandemic on workforce and child welfare outcomes will be discussed.