Caseload and Workload Management
Series: Issue Briefs|
Child Welfare Information Gateway. |
|Year Published: 2010|
Strategies for Caseload and Workload Management
Strategies to reduce caseloads and workloads include targeted efforts as well as broader initiatives in three categories:
Manageable caseloads and workloads are functions in large part of the number of qualified staff available to handle cases. Caseload/workload strategies related to staffing reflect:
- Recruitment of new staff. Agencies are implementing a range of activities to attract qualified applicants, including adopting new outreach strategies, revising hiring practices, offering higher salaries, and providing stipends for bilingual staff or for masters in social work. While adding staff may be the most obvious approach to reducing caseloads and workloads, it often is constrained by available funding and the lack of qualified applicants for open positions. Several States that have added large numbers of new positions (e.g., Delaware, Indiana, and New Jersey) have been supported by legislation or consent decrees.
- Retention of existing staff. To reduce turnover—which is both a consequence and a cause of high workloads—agencies are introducing employee recognition and reward programs, providing mentoring initiatives, enhancing supervision and support, enabling job sharing and flex time, and offering opportunities for professional development and advanced education. In addition, retention efforts include practices intended to improve the match between the worker and the job through competency-based hiring (Bernotavicz, 2008), internships, and use of videos that provide recruits with a more realistic view of child welfare work (for examples, see Realistic Job Preview Videos from Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina). Many States also are conducting exit interviews to determine why staff leave and using findings to inform new retention initiatives (Robison, 2006).
- Reallocation of staff. In some instances, agencies (e.g., in Maryland and Idaho) have been reallocating staff to more efficiently address workloads and caseload distribution. In making reallocation and case assignment decisions, States may consider not only the number of cases but also the type of case and level of effort required.
- Specialized and support staff. Some States develop specialized staff units or positions to allocate workloads more efficiently; others assign support staff to help lessen caseworker paperwork and administrative tasks.
For more research-based and practical "how-to" information on recruitment and retention strategies used in the field, see:
- Strategies Matrix Approach to Recruitment and Retention Techniques (SMARRT Manual), produced by the Western Regional Recruitment and Retention Project
- Training Series: Staff Retention in Child and Family Services, developed by Michigan State University School of Social Work
- Workforce Tools, featured on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website
Improving Worker Effectiveness
Agencies also address workload management through practices that aim to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of workers, so that once in place, staff can handle more cases or work in less time. Strategies include:
- Training and professional development. Well-trained staff are able to complete tasks accurately and in a timely manner. In addition, studies suggest that educational programs provide workers with both competencies and increased commitment to their jobs, which are associated with retention (Zlotnik et al., 2005). Agencies are delivering a variety of training initiatives to build competencies and align skills with new practice models. Some States have formed university-agency partnerships that provide training and, in some cases, funding for child welfare staff to pursue graduate social work degrees (e.g., New York's Social Work Education Consortium).
- Supervision. Good supervision helps workers gain knowledge and build the skills needed to conduct their work more effectively and efficiently. In addition, research points to supportive supervision as a critical factor in reducing turnover (Zlotnik et al., 2005; Juby & Scannapieco, 2007; GAO, 2003.) Agencies are working to reduce staff/supervisor ratios, build supervisor skills, and improve the supervisor-caseworker relationship through supervisory training, coaching initiatives, mentoring opportunities, and feedback mechanisms.
- Design teams. Bringing together staff of every level from frontline workers and supervisors up through managers and administrators, design teams in New York State and elsewhere are used first to identify workforce issues and their causes and then to develop and implement workable solutions.
- Tools and technology. Agencies are using current technologies and mobile devices to help workers document casework more efficiently, access information that supports decision-making, and make use of waiting time. For example, workers in parts of Texas, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma take tablet PCs into the field to aid in streamlined documentation; workers in Vermont carry cell phones that not only offer telephone service but also email, scheduling, and modem functions; and workers in Iowa are using SACWIS as a case management tool and resource for decision-making.
- Quality assurance. States and localities are implementing case review processes and quality assurance efforts to ensure effectiveness.
Implementing Program and Practice Changes
While some States focus on enlarging or enhancing the workforce, others approach caseload/workload management by reducing the "work," i.e., decreasing the number of children and families who enter, reenter, or remain in the system.
- Prevention and early intervention. Agencies seek to reduce the number of cases entering the child welfare system through in-home and other prevention services as well as differential/alternative response initiatives. Arizona and Idaho are among the States that recognize prevention and early intervention as part of their workload/caseload management strategies.
- Permanency initiatives. Other States and jurisdictions—for example, Suffolk County, New York (Levy Credits Foster Care, 2009)—focus on the backend of the system, employing initiatives related to kinship care, adoption, and other avenues to permanency as a means to reduce caseloads.
- Other systems reforms. While systemwide reforms such as new practice models and systems of care may not always be identified as caseload/workload management, they can, nevertheless, yield significant results in reducing caseloads and workloads. Some argue that such efforts will not be effective without attention to caseload and workload (Children's Bureau, n.d., slide 15).
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