Iowa Center for Evaluation & Research
DMC Resource Center

Improving Recruitment and Retention in public child welfare

Improving Recruitment and Retention in Public Child Welfare was a five-year project of the University of Iowa School of Social Work in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS). The University of Iowa's project developed, implemented, and evaluated training statewide for Iowa's public child welfare supervisors; developed and implemented a child welfare specialization for BSW and MSW students; and is disseminating project results and training materials. Click here to download the project final report.

Supervisor Training
Supervisor Developmental Planning and Support Toolkit
Improving Recruitment and Retention in Your Agency
Curriculum Development

Supervisor Training
Committed to Excellence Through Supervision

The focus of Iowa's training project was developing, implementing, and evaluating a multi-module curriculum of up to ten days for supervisors and mid-level managers in Iowa's public child welfare agency.  This emphasis was driven by a considerable body of research identifying supportive supervision as a key factor affecting the job satisfaction, commitment, and retention of child welfare workers.  Click here for the curriculum overview.

The modules are:


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Supervisor Developmental Planning and Support Toolkit (pdf to table of contents)

The Supervisor Developmental Planning and Support Toolkit is a set of tools and templates which help child welfare supervisors create their own formal child welfare supervision program

  • Worker competencies and task analyses provide a framework for supervisors to assess workers' individual educational needs across five domains (Human Relations,  Case Practice; Clinical Practice, Managing Stress/Safety and Adapting to Change)
  • Individual and unit development plans help supervisors find additional resources for worker education within the team and to decide whether to address education needs through individual or group methods.
  • The Developmental Planning and Support tool makes our Developmental Model of Supervision explicit, describing characteristic worker behaviors along a continuum (Trainee-Novice-Professional-Advanced Professional) and suggesting supervisory strategies for developing the workers.
  • The Supervision Manual provides formats for reflective questions, various types of group supervision, including brief case presentation and focused supervision, and live observation, and a template for creating effective in-service programs.

In addition, the curriculum manual contains many more supervisor tools, such as a flowchart for assessing worker underperformance or impairment, and supervisor-to-worker teaching tools, such as staff activities around diversity, a brief worker self-assessment for secondary trauma, a workshop for assessing learning styles, and tools for case management with substance affected families.
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Improving Recruitment and Retention in your agency
The supervisor training or other components of the Recruitment and Retention project can be replicated in private and public child welfare agencies.   We will tailor the project to meet your agency's needs.  Our trainer consultants can:

  • Deliver all or part of the training package to supervisors in your agency
  • Adapt the modules for use in your state or agency
  • Develop an entirely new curriculum
  • Conduct an organizational assessment to determine agency needs for supervisory training
  • Work with administrators, supervisors and line staff to develop competencies for your agency's particular work
  • Conduct a study of recruitment and retention issues

For more information, please contact Lisa D'Aunno, NRCFCP Training Director, at 319-335-4932,
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Curriculum Development Process
A project advisory committee met on a monthly basis over the five years of the project to provide guidance; assist in developing the training objectives, focus, and format; and to review curricula and training exercises. Focus groups were conducted with supervisors in each service area around the state to obtain their perspectives on the strengths and challenges of their job and to get their input into needed training content. Supervisor and worker competencies were developed and revised through a multi-stage process involving the advisory group and IDHS administrators.  The final curriculum was developed by a team of expert consultants and trainers, piloted, and delivered to five cohorts of geographically diverse supervisors, including a group of new supervisors.
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Evaluation of training found high levels of attendance by supervisors and high levels of satisfaction with the content and usefulness of the training. Analysis of knowledge tests administered pre and post-training demonstrated significant knowledge gains.  Analysis of self-reported use of skills taught in the training demonstrated significant increases in utilization when measured at six month follow-ups.

Turnover of various types (desirable, preventable, and non-preventable), as well as job change data, were compiled on a quarterly basis and analyzed.  Findings indicated that among those individual employed at the beginning of the project, annual turnover rates ranged from 94 to 97%, which is quite high.  Although there is some variation in retention across service areas, no service area experienced an annual turnover rate lower than 90%.  There was, however, a considerable amount of job change within the organization which, while perhaps contributing to the high retention rates, may share some of the negative effects of turnover, especially in terms of interrupting services to children and families.
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Two journal articles have been published and additional articles are in development.  Listed below are the citations and abstracts from the published articles:

Landsman, M.J. (2007). Supporting supervisors to improve retention. Child Welfare, 86 (2), 105-124.

Abstract:  Recent child welfare research has identified supervisors as key to retaining qualified and committed workers'. This paper describes implementation of a federally funded child welfare training initiative designed to improve worker retention largely through developing, implementing, and evaluating a statewide supervisor training program in a Midwestern state. Unique to this collaborative effort was involving all child welfare supervisors in identifying needed content components, developing competencies, and conducting self-assessments.

Landsman, M.J. (2008). Pathways to organizational commitment. Administration in Social Work, 32(2), 105-132.  [This article received the Slavin-Patti Award for Scholarly Excellence in 2008.]

Abstract:  This study uses an attribution of employer responsibility framework to empirically examine how aspects of work and the work environment affect organizational commitment. The study estimates a structural equation model using data from a cross-sectional survey of child welfare employees within the Iowa Department of Human Services. Results support the existence of two pathways to organizational commitment. Work-related variables to which employees attribute greater employer responsibility affect employees' commitment through the social exchange mediator of perceived organizational support, while aspects of work to which employees attribute less employer responsibility affect commitment through job satisfaction. Supervisor support is unique in affecting commitment through both pathways.
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NRCFCP - 319.335.4965

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