Moving from Surviving to Thriving in the Child Welfare Workforce

As part of an ongoing series on Colorado’s early childhood workforce, and in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention month, the ECCP is highlighting voices of those working to support the child welfare workforce. See Lorendia Schmidt’s post from earlier this week, and now hear from Kim DuBois, a partner working in Pitkin County, on challenges and possibilities connected to supporting a strong child welfare workforce.

by Kim DuBois, Adult & Family Services — Pitkin County

Research shows that the health or “well-being” of the child welfare workforce is directly tied to safety and permanency outcomes for children served.  In our small county of Pitkin, we have grappled with this issue for some time.  This issue is not a “new” problem in child welfare—we know this because decision makers are constantly looking for solutions for this great challenge at the local, regional, state and federal level. We all realize that this work is difficult and that caseworkers often do not make it beyond 18 months on the job.  If a caseworker remains beyond 18 months, we know that secondary trauma (stress caused through learning about the first-hand stress and experiences of another) that caseworkers experience poses a great threat to their own health.  This “burn-out”, in turn, results in working in environments where the workforce is in “survival mode.”  Decisions are sometimes based out of emotion—fear or lack of emotion—numbness.

We know the problem, we know the impact, but we are really having a hard time figuring out a solution.  There are no black and white answers for this and it does not fit into a neat package.  How do we even define workforce well-being and how does this relate to the definition of child, youth and family “well-being?” This issue sometimes seems too big to tackle.  Why? Maybe because we are looking at this through a limited lens. In our field, we all understand safety and permanency—we can measure that. The health and well-being of children, youth and families is not so easy to measure. So maybe it is easier to look at it this way: safety + permanency = well-being. The reason for this is that safety (not being physically or emotionally harmed or neglected) and permanency (consistent connections and a sense of belonging) provides a sense of well-being (in the 14th century this meant to “fare well”, more recently this means “welfare”.)

What if our child welfare workforce (and the broader early childhood system serving children and families) “mirrored” and integrated safety + permanency = well-being into our organizations?  Some may call this the “X factor”—“a circumstance, quality, or person that has a strong but unpredictable influence.”  Or, maybe it is not “unpredictable influence.”   Maybe it is predictable–who we are, what we value and how we show up with the people that we work with makes the difference. How are people their “best selves?”  Well, if we look at our model for child welfare it is:  Safety first. What happens when people feel safe?  They trust, they connect, they move out of reaction into healthy action.  They move from surviving to thriving.  Once we have safety, we build trust and then we feel belonging, connectedness.  Let’s call this permanency.  All of this does not change the work that we are called to do, but it changes how we do our work.  And, that creates workforce “well-being.”  The work that we are doing matches up with what we know and how we do it—congruency, integrity.

We are learning these things in our small county because we heard this message a few years ago.  We were struggling with issues of recruitment, retention, reactive decision making, increased out-of-home placements and fractured relationships with each other and with our families.  When we heard this message shared by Amelia Franck Meyer, (CEO of ALIA), we could not “un-hear” it.  We had no choice but to move forward.  That is when our work with ALIA began.  ALIA is an organization that partners with public agencies to guide them through personal and leadership transformations to create healthy cultures to increase the stability of the workforce and advance outcomes for children and families.  The tag line of ALIA is to “KNOW Better, DO Better and BE Better.”  We KNOW better and we are starting to DO Better and, ultimately, we will BE Better.  We don’t know if this is THE solution.  It is the best solution that we have right now and the beauty of this is that we are always learning and transforming.

We are not trying to “sell” this—we want to “share” this because we (those who work with children and families) are all in this together and we all understand the challenges.

We would love to share more you about this process.  If you have questions, please contact me at [email protected] or the team at “ALIA.”

 

Working Together to Support a Strong Child Welfare Workforce

As part of an ongoing series on Colorado’s early childhood workforce, and in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention month, the ECCP invited Lorendia Schmidt, CAPTA Administrator with the CDHS Department of Children, Youth & Families, to highlight the challenges and opportunities faced by Colorado’s child welfare workforce. Read on as Lorendia shares potential connections and learnings to support the early childhood workforce across early care and education and child welfare.

 

by Lorendia Schmidt

When I was asked to write this post about turnover in the child welfare system, I first went to the ECCP blog to read the installments by Tami Havener and Kristina Mueller for some inspiration and guidance. What I found was a reminder of how similar the challenges are between the early care and education and child welfare systems. Re-read their blogs and replace each instance of “teacher” or “educator” with “child welfare caseworker;” you’ll find that everything they say about turnover in early care and education applies to child welfare:

 

  • Children thrive with consistent and stable adults in their life;
  • Many communities lack an effective, consistent workforce in whom families can place their trust;
  • Over time, there are increasing state regulations for both caseworker qualifications and job expectations;
  • We consistently lose good caseworkers to better paying, less demanding jobs; and,
  • We need to recruit, retain, compensate, and support the child welfare workforce.

A cross-systems work group within the Colorado Department of Human Services recently released recommendations for system-level change that may prevent maltreatment in children five and under.  The group recognized the importance of cross-systems collaboration, but also acknowledged that high turnover is the biggest barrier. The following is an excerpt from their final report:

“When rates of turnover are high, individual agencies are constantly recruiting, hiring, and training new staff, while also covering vacant position workloads. These activities render professionals unable to engage in the relationship-building that supports cross-system collaboration. In addition, the cost of worker turnover is staggering. The Applied Research in Child Welfare (ARCH) at Colorado State University is in the process of analyzing 10 years of child welfare employment data across Colorado. From 2005-2015, seven of the ten largest Colorado counties had an average turnover rate of 29.7% within intake teams, with a total of 648 workers leaving intake positions over the 10 year period (ARCH, draft, 2016). With a conservative estimate of $54,000 per new hire (NCWII, 2016), this has cost Colorado over $35 million dollars in the last ten years in only seven of Colorado’s 64 counties.”

Just like in early care and education, turnover in child welfare is an urgent matter. We all work with the same families and ultimately have the same desire: for children to thrive in their homes and in their communities. How can we learn from one another? How can we share limited resources to support a high-quality, consistent work force across the various sectors of the early childhood system?

Stay tuned for another installment in the workforce series from the child welfare caseworker perspective, coming soon!

Project: 9 Ways to Grow Healthy Colorado Kids

Organization: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Unit

Location of Messaging: Statewide

Speaking With One Voice are nine audience-tested early childhood obesity prevention messages and supporting content to address important healthy lifestyle behaviors found most promising in preventing overweight and obesity before it begins among Colorado’s youngest children. The goal of the initiative is to ensure pregnant women and families with infants and young children hear consistent messages in multiple settings where they spend time and interact with community members that potentially influence health behaviors.

Since 2015, the 9 Ways to Grow Healthy Colorado Kids messages are being used statewide by diverse partner organizations including public health and primary care clinics, WIC Programs, hospitals, early child care homes and centers, recreation centers, libraries and others. No cost messaging materials are available at www.colorado.gov/cdphe/9-ways-grow-healthy-colorado-kids or simply search on One Stop ECOP Shop. Resources include downloadable posters and handouts, provider talking points, newsletter templates, social media guide, messaging video, an electronic form to order materials and more!

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Unit invites you to join this statewide effort in sharing these messages and supporting rationale and tips in your counseling, education, and community messaging promotion efforts. We maximize messaging when all public health programs, health care providers, early care and education professionals and other partners work together to deliver consistent, accurate and consumer-tested messages. Together, we can make a greater impact!

Program Evaluation: Tips for Design, Implementation, and Evaluation (Part 2 of 2)

  • April 3, 2017
  • Data

by Tim Walter, Arapahoe County Early Childhood Council

This blog entry is the second of two posts written by Tim Walter on Data and Evaluation. You can read the first post here.

The ultimate purpose of evaluation is to show, through imagery and visuals, the “good work” our agencies perform.  Big Data is only as effective as our ability to summarize and message to the public via attractive and innovative visuals.  The average person only takes a few seconds to process and draw conclusions about information – program evaluation within an agency must begin to move towards effective messaging as grant funds continue to become more competitive.

Program Evaluation is several jobs rolled into one.  It is becoming more necessary for evaluators to possess multiple skills: research, grant writing, statistics, computer database design, strategic planning, data analysis, and graphic design (among others).

My hope is to provide a few tips to jump start your evaluation efforts.  Through discussions with non-profit councils, I’ve realized that not every agency is equipped with an Evaluator or Data Manager; however, through collaboration we can begin to improve child and family evaluation in Colorado.

The three components of program evaluation consist of: (1) Design (2) Implementation (3) Evaluation.

Often the term “evaluation” is used to summarize these three components, yet they are distinct and we must be able to develop each component independently with flexibility, while remaining mindful of how all the components will ultimately interact.

Design:

The design phase gives us the opportunity to identify “what to track” in order to measure a program’s effectiveness.  Generally, we can find what we need to measure (ie: the “primary asks”) within our program’s grant.  If a grant is well written, there may be a section titled “Measurables” or “Outcomes Desired.” These are great starting points for developing program evaluation.  Additionally, we may have “secondary asks,” which generally come from stakeholder/board member or collaborative groups our agencies partner with.  I believe these are of secondary importance, because we are not legally obligated to report on our stakeholder/board member or collaborative group asks (as they are not “primary asks”).  Therefore, we must develop systems for tracking and remain accountable to our program grants or “primary asks,” which we are legally required each year to report on.  Consider creating a “hierarchy of asks,” and it will become easier to see in which category a particular ask falls (ie: grant, stakeholder, board member, or collaborative ask).  Ultimately, it may be very possible to tuck “secondary asks” into the existing “primary asks” identified within your program grants.

As part of the design also consider using a Logic Model (a visual representation of the program) because it will allow you to identify the following:

(1) “Goals” of the program

(2) “Short” and “Long” term goals

(3a) “Activities” you/staff will be required to perform

(3b) “Indicators” which tell you how the “Activities” are progressing. Generally these are total numbers (ie: “the total number of individuals served in a program” or “the total number sites that have increased site rating levels from 2016 to 2017)

(4) “Inputs,” which are all the materials/staff that make a program function.

Logic Models should be be updated yearly and should be flexible enough to allow you to tuck in any new “primary” or “secondary” asks.

Implementation:

Now that we’ve identified “what to track,” we need to consider “how to track it?”  The implementation phase should focus on establishing tools to track our program outcomes (activities and indicators) for grant funders and creating protocol for staff to follow to track activities accurately and consistently for reporting.  By using our Logic Models we can visually outline and match all of our program “activities” to “indicators.”  Activities are generally outlined in our program grants (ie: “report the total number of participants served in 2017”) and should be accompanied with an Indicator (ie: “the total number of participants served in 2017”).  This will allow us to easily identify our program number totals for reporting.  Remember to create tracking protocol for staff – often program grants outline tracking protocol (ie: “at participant enrollment of program, complete a pre-survey assessment with the caregiver”); however, it may be necessary for us to create additional protocol for data entry purposes.  Inaccurate or inconsistent data entry will negatively impact our data integrity and by taking the time to implement staff data entry protocol we can eliminate future data errors and maintenance.

Generally, Microsoft Excel or Access are sufficient to track program activities and will allow us to quickly calculate the total numbers (“indicators”).  Attempt to avoid using MS Word, as it does not easily allow us to total numbers without spending additional time on manual counting.  If our agency programs already use an existing database for tracking, we should always attempt to utilize these for pulling number totals.

Evaluation:

Lastly, if we have successfully identified our various “asks” and set up efficient systems to track, we can develop our program messaging and communication.  As grants become more competitive, we must be able to “show the good work we do” in an innovative and concise manner.  Consider using or producing maps to geographically display who/where we are serving, or infographics (ie: graphs, bar charts, pie charts and tables) to summarize and display our program’s impact.  Free and low-cost mapping and infographic options, such as ArcGIS, QGIS, Piktochart, and PowerPoint/Excel exist for agencies working from a limited budget.

At the Arapahoe County Early Childhood Council (ACECC), we owe much of our initial evaluation and data development efforts to the ECCP Mini-Grant (2016).  As we move forward towards program messaging and communication (a focus for 2017-2018), we are excited to collaborate with the ECCP and other councils to further develop evaluation efforts and innovative messaging techniques in an effort to improve child and family outcomes in Colorado.

If you would like to discuss program evaluation and data reporting, please feel free to contact: Tim Walter, Program Evaluator and Data Analyst at ACECC at [email protected] We look forward to future collaborations!