Research Watch: Overworked, Underpaid, and At-Risk
American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees
1625 L St., NW
Washington, DC 20036
Free copy: call (202) 429-1155 or fax request to (202) 429-1084, or free on Internet at www.afscme.org
Feeling overworked, underpaid, and afraid? A new report on child welfare workers suggests you’re not alone.
The report is based on a survey sent to American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employee (AFSCME) affiliates representing child welfare workers in 17 states. The results are based on 29 surveys completed by staff or union representatives in 10 states: Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. The findings are intended to represent more than 13,000 front-line workers from urban, suburban and rural areas.
Fear of violence was a recurring theme. More than 70 percent of the affiliates reported that front-line workers had been victims of violence or the threat of violence in the line of duty. Although threats were more common, more than 30 percent of the affiliates reported physical assaults, and others reported attempted rape, stalking, and kidnapping.
Management was usually, but not always, supportive in the face of danger. For example, managers sometimes reassigned cases to another worker, provided workers with cellular phones, installed security doors at the agency office, hired security guards, and sometimes even installed bullet-proof glass or provided bullet-proof vests.
The report also found child care workers to be highly educated and underpaid. Most of the agencies surveyed require a four-year college degree; an MSW is required in Hawaii and some counties in other states. Social workers with a bachelor’s degree start with a salary between $17,600 and $31,000, with higher salaries in urban areas, and most salaries starting in the mid-20’s. Maximum salaries for bachelor’s degree workers ranged from $25,600 to $45,600, but in many agencies, the vast majority of workers remain at the low end of the range. Workers with MSWs start with salaries ranging from $27,600 to 33,500, with maximums ranging from $31,100 to 55,600.
Caseloads vary considerably, both in terms of responsibilities and numbers. At some agencies, workers can specialize in investigations, adoptions, family preservation services, recruitment of foster parents or other services. At other agencies, most workers handle two or more different types of cases.
Not surprisingly, caseloads were high. The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) has recommended that workers providing intensive family preservation services serve from two to six families at a time; workers investigating allegations of abuse and neglect carry no more than 12 cases a month; those involved in family foster care serve no more than 12-15 children; and workers involved in ongoing in-home protective services carry no more than 15-17 families. In the real world represented by this report, average caseloads were higher. From 57-89 percent of the agencies had average caseloads that exceeded the CWLA guidelines. In a few agencies, caseloads exceeded 40-50 cases for each worker.
Many described their training as inadequate for the challenges of the work. Only two reported that the union had any involvement in the design or selection of the training program. Many reported that mentoring by co-workers or a supervisor was the most helpful type of training, and that a prolonged, intensive training period was helpful for new employees.
The report provides detailed information on the issues of violence, salaries, and caseloads in easy-to-read charts. Sarah deLone, the AFSCME policy analyst who wrote the report, told Youth Today that although the report is not based on a scientific random sample, “it reflects the reality that child welfare workers lack the resources that they need in order to do their jobs. Given the severe shortage of resources and difficult working conditions, nobody should be surprised that tragedies happen. Many of these tragedies could be avoided if workers had more support.”
Zuckerman, Diana. "Overworked, Underpaid, and At-Risk." Research Watch review of Caseworkers at Risk: Helping At-Risk Kids: A Report on the Working Conditions Facing Child Welfare Workers. Youth Today, April 1999, p. 10.
©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.