Further, a caseworker’s decision to leave their job is not necessarily indicative of a subsequent decision to leave the child welfare field. Movement within and between agencies allows caseworkers to pursue higher level careers in leadership. In this sense, not all turnover is bad. While turnover due to career advancement may contribute to the turnover frequency at the agency level, some individuals who leave the job remain committed to the field; a distinction in turnover outcomes that needs to be better understood. Analysis of indicators that predict different combinations of intent to leave the job and/or the field can further explain the larger story of retention and turnover in public child welfare.
Methods: One midwestern state-level child welfare agency administered a Caseworker Satisfaction Survey in June-July 2020. The cross-sectional survey sought to understand the job-related stressors of caseworkers, and their impact on caseworker satisfaction. The survey was sent to all 1,732 public child welfare caseworkers in the state and 49% (n=850) responded.
Responses were analyzed to understand the association between job stressors and reports of intent to leave or stay in the job and/or field. We employed multinomial logistic regression to measure the relationship between general job-related stress and short-term and/or long-term intent and the relationship between itemized job-related stressors and short-term and/or long-term intent.
Results: As compared to caseworkers who plan to stay in the job and field, increased general stress is associated with increased likelihood of being undecided about leaving, intending to leave the job and field, or intending to leave the job but not the field. Itemized stressors are separately associated with intent; increases in competency stress are associated with higher intent to leave the job and field as compared to caseworkers who intend to stay in both. Higher safety related stress is also associated with undecided intent or intent to leave the job and field as compared to intent to stay in both.
Additionally, caseworkers with a master’s degree are more likely than caseworkers without a master’s degree to report intent to leave the job and field or intent to leave the job but stay in the field. This builds on prior research indicating while master’s trained caseworkers may seek alternative employment, some portion may do so for purposes of career advancement.
Conclusions and Implications: Caseworkers experience stress regardless of intent to leave, but not all turnover involves intent to leave the field. General supports to reduce stressors may prove useful for retention, however, targeted approaches, such as those focused on competency- and safety-related stress, may be more efficient and effective.