Abstract: Job Resources in Child Welfare: Work Relationships Associated with Caseworker Retention (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

Job Resources in Child Welfare: Work Relationships Associated with Caseworker Retention

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Brianne Kothari, PhD, Assistant Professor, Oregon State University-Cascades, Bend, OR
Kelly Chandler, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Oregon State University
Andrew Waugh, Ph.D., Lead Interagency Research Analyst, Oregon Department of Human Services
Background and Purpose: The child welfare workforce has an alarmingly high turnover rate, with some agencies experiencing turnover rates as high as 65% (Casey Family Programs, 2017). Turnover can have significant repercussions for the well-being of the agency and for the families and children the agency serves. High turnover is likely due to the mismatch between job demands and job resources (Zlotnik, 2011). Guided by the Job Demands-Resources Model (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007), we utilized data from a statewide caseworker engagement survey to compare job characteristics among three caseworker retention groups created by caseworkers’ job satisfaction and turnover intentions. This study examined the impact of job demands and job resources on retention groups in an attempt to understand how to improve conditions and practices to support DHS caseworkers.

Methods: Participants for this study included 485 caseworkers (Child Protective Services and Permanency workers) in Oregon’s Department of Human Services (DHS). Caseworkers completed a survey with items from the Gallup 12 Employee Engagement Survey. Survey data were examined alongside other data from the agency. Retention groups were created based on items of job satisfaction and intention to stay at the agency. We then used a multinomial logit model to predict membership in one of three retention groups: Satisfied Stayers (SS), Ambivalent Stayers (AS) and Uncommitted Caseworkers (UC). Covariates were included at Step 1 (role, gender, race, salary, education, population density), job demands were included at Step 2 (objective caseload, case complexity (trauma flags), work travel time), and job resources (supervisor support, coworker support, and work tools) were included at Step 3.

Results: Distinct differences emerged between retention groups on job demands and job resources. Compared to Uncommitted Caseworkers, Satisfied Stayers had significantly higher supervisor and coworker support. Multinomial logit models also revealed that these critical relationships with supervisors and coworkers remained significant even after accounting for the covariates and job demands in the model. In addition, compared to Uncommitted Caseworkers, Ambivalent Stayers had significantly higher coworker support accounting for covariates and job demands in the model. Open-ended responses also highlighted the value caseworkers place on their relationships with coworkers.

Discussion and Implications: These results highlight the importance of work relationships for caseworkers’ satisfaction and retention. Increasing job resources, specifically nurturing caseworkers’ relationships with their supervisors and coworkers, may be an important way to re-engage caseworkers who may be ambivalent or uncommitted about staying at the agency. Coworker support is deserving of additional attention given that it is a critical job resource and a malleable target for intervention. Further investigation into caseworkers’ experiences will illuminate workplace interventions and programs that will improve caseworkers’ job satisfaction, retention, and the quality of services provided to the children and families they serve.