Few occupations are tougher on workers than those in the child welfare field, with national turnover rates estimated to range from 20% to 40% a year.
Protecting the welfare of the hundreds of thousands of children at risk of abuse or neglect will always be a difficult job, but Democractic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin want the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to lighten the load for these workers.
Studies suggest that a stable workforce of child protective services officials, caseworkers and supervisors can have a major impact on the families and children who come under scrutiny. The goal is to intervene in unhealthy family dynamics before they become so dire that children must be removed from the home. These decisions are complicated and wrenching for the professionals who make them. Burnout and loss of empathy are a constant threat to workers who don’t feel respected, can’t practice self-care and harden as a defense mechanism in the face of unrelenting emotional stress.
Kaine and Baldwin’s Senate Bill 1496 doesn’t suggest the senators have the answers, but it would require that Health and Human Services fund demonstration projects to improve the recruitment and retention of child welfare workers over the next five years. Although the text of the bill has not been published yet, it has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Introducing the bill late last month, Kaine said the coronavirus pandemic has only further highlighted the “essential” need to develop a stable child welfare workforce that can stand up to the demands of the job.
“The multitude of challenges inherent in child welfare work, combined with relatively low compensation and work benefits, make these careers difficult to sustain,” he said.
After introducing the child welfare workforce bill, Kaine proposed S.B. 1497, a measure that would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to ensure protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth and their families in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. They fear that LGBTQ youth have experienced unrecognized and underreported maltreatment during school shutdowns.
That bill calls for additional research into the risk of abuse among LGBTQ youth, especially those who identify as transgender. It is hoped that the research would uncover insights into the development of targeted prevention strategies to reduce the rates of Adverse Childhood Experiences. It has also been sent to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.