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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!

Moving Forward Together to Build a Strong Early Childhood Workforce

by Tami Havener, Executive Director of Family Development Center in Routt County

tami-portraitOur state’s focus on the Early Childhood Workforce and the I2I project is very exciting. From my perspective as a Director of a medium size early learning program for more than 30 years, this initiative has such promise.

I have experienced over time, increasing state regulations for both teacher qualifications and job expectations. As a nationally accredited (NAEYC) center since 1990, we have always had higher expectations for teachers. While meeting or exceeding accreditation standards has always been a choice, recently, regulatory requirements have made recruitment and retention more difficult.

preschool-cookingBeing able to find the person who is the right fit for an organization has always been tricky. Add onto that, finding someone who has all of the educational or training requirements met before they can begin in a classroom with children has exponentially increased the dilemma. This is exacerbated by working in a community where training is not readily available.

Once the right person is recruited, retaining becomes an issue especially when compensation parity with public school teachers is still an unattainable goal. I feel blessed to have some of my best teachers for 10-20 years. Still, we consistently lose good teachers to the public school system, or to less demanding jobs.
As an agency with just under 20 staff, we are constantly working to increase compensation and benefits. And while donations and grants help, these are most often not sustainable. So when we added health insurance and a retirement plan as a benefit for our staff, we had to pass that cost on to families as a tuition increase. We all know that Colorado is one of the most expensive states for child care. It is always a balancing act of compensating teachers fairly and honoring a family’s ability to pay for early childhood care and education.

snowy-winter-003It is said “when we know better, we do better.” Well, we know how critically important these early years are.  Yet we still depend upon families’ ability to pay, and teachers’ foregone wages to primarily fund our early childhood system. There needs to be other strong contributors at the table, in order for all of us to “do better” by our youngest. And we need to honor family choice with a mixed delivery system to meet various family needs.

Our state’s Workforce project efforts have a huge task in solving or even making a significant dent in this issue.  I am hopeful that we can move forward together.

Supporting Future Generations of Coloradans through Family Friendly Workplaces

By Hanna Nichols, The Civic Canopy

img_3036Parenting can be the most rewarding experience of one’s life, and it is also likely the most challenging. Having a career devoted to collaborative efforts supporting the needs of children and families, I know the powerful impact parents and caregivers have on children and the importance of working together to ensure families can thrive. But this desire and understanding became a much bigger reality when I became pregnant with my daughter Nora, born earlier this year. With 64 percent of children under the age of 6 with both parents in the workforce[i] and the United States being the only advanced country not to mandate any paid leave for new parents[ii], we can do more to ensure families are supported and children can thrive.

Even as someone armed with an array of resources and copious amounts of support through family, friends, and colleagues, navigating the world of pregnancy and raising a child is harder than I ever could have imagined. Receiving pre- and post-natal care, organizing leave from work, finding child care, and how it all plays into scheduling and finances adds a large burden to the everyday experience of caring for a newborn.

Every family deserves the ability to make the choices they need for themselves, but not all families have the opportunity of choice afforded to them. Many are overextended and struggle to make ends meet. I work in an incredibly supportive workplace that provided me with three months of leave, lactation accommodations, and a part-time position to return to so I can spend valuable time with my daughter. I have family nearby, which means I have the choice to use consistent Family, Friend, and Neighbor child care without a financial burden and have the comfort of knowing Nora gets to build strong relationships with family members who have tools and resources to ensure she receives nurturing experiences every day. The reality is that most families in Colorado are not in the same position with flexible work policies and child care options. In fact, 14 percent of Coloradans reported child care issues affected their employment in 2011-2012 [iii].

It’s exciting to see issues around family friendly workplace policies gain support nationwide, and to see early childhood partners working together to identify ways we can better support families in Colorado. To learn more about how you can get involved, take a look at the Family Friendly Workplace toolkit on the Early Childhood Colorado Partnership website, and make sure to keep an eye out for the next blog post later this month from partners with Essentials for Childhood and EPIC, highlighting how partners can use this toolkit and engage in supporting workplaces to meet the needs of families to create a more prosperous future for Colorado.

[i] U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey 1-year estimates.

[ii] Livingston, G. Among 41 Nations, U.S. is the outlier when it comes to paid parental leave. (2016). Pew Research Center.

[iii] Child Trends analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014, reported in KIDS COUNT Data Center. Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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