FSU Social Work faculty to study child welfare employee retention

Dina Wilke, associate professor
in the College of Social Work
at Florida State.

A new study led by faculty members in the Florida State University College of Social Work will examine the individual and organizational influences on child welfare employee retention and, ultimately, child and family outcomes in Florida.

The “Florida Study of Professionals for Safe Families” is a 5-year statewide study examining retention of child welfare professionals. Led by Associate Professor Dina Wilke, along with Associate Professor Melissa Radey and Assistant Professor Philip Osteen, the study is a partnership between the Florida Institute for Child Welfare (housed at the FSU College of Social Work), the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Florida Coalition for Children (FCC) representing community-based care agencies.

High staff turnover among child welfare professionals remains a significant problem in Florida. The Florida Legislature, DCF and the FCC all have recognized that solving this problem is an important component of preventing recurrent child maltreatment.

A top priority of DCF Secretary Mike Carroll is to create a world-class child welfare system through the development of a distinguished work force, according to DCF Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare Janice Thomas.

“Well-trained, experienced staff members are essential,” Thomas said. “This study will provide valuable information regarding how to train, prepare and support staff to ensure Florida has the most qualified child welfare professionals needed to produce better outcomes for children and families dealing with complex issues.”

The Florida Study of Professionals for Safe Families began recruiting all new hires into Florida’s child welfare workforce with the intention of following these new hires for five years. The ultimate goal is to understand how a worker’s personal background, behaviors and beliefs, along with organizational characteristics, work responsibilities and community context affect employee retention. Data collected from this study will have significant implications for the recruitment and training of child welfare professionals in Florida, with the overall aim to improve care and outcomes for the children and families being served.

The Florida Coalition For Children strives to identify ways it can recruit, train and retain a highly qualified and skilled child welfare workforce.

“We know all too well the challenges and impacts of the high stress and demands that are put on frontline workers,” said Kurt Kelly, FCC president and CEO. “This project will be a significant step in helping us to better understand and address these challenges and the resulting high turnover rates of our case workers and case managers. What we do know is that high turnover rates negatively impact outcomes for abused, abandoned, neglected and at-risk children and youth.”

Shelley Katz, chair of the FCC’s board of directors, hopes that the data from the study will help employers address issues that cause staff to leave, increase staff retention rates and, most importantly, improve safety, well-being and permanency outcomes for children. ;

“The results of this research will be most impactful if lead agencies and case management providers use the data to work in partnership to create a system culture that can recruit and retain top talent,” Katz said.

The study is funded by the Florida Institute for Child Welfare fulfilling its mission to advance the well-being of children and families by improving the performance of child protection and child welfare services through research, policy analysis, evaluation and leadership development. DCF also is ; contributing to the funding of the study through an $85,000 Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention Grant.

To learn more about the Florida Institute for Child Welfare, visit http://csw.fsu.edu/ficw/. To learn more about the Florida Study of Professionals for Safe Families, contact Wilke at dwilke@fsu.edu.