Caseload and Workload Management
Series: Issue Briefs|
Child Welfare Information Gateway. |
|Year Published: 2010|
State and Local Examples of Caseload and Workload Strategies
State and local agencies throughout the country are using the strategies above to reduce caseloads and manage workloads. Following are selected examples.1 While the examples below highlight certain aspects of a State's caseload/workload strategy, they may not provide the complete picture of that State's multifaceted initiative. Also, it is important to note that current economic conditions and budget crises are affecting many agencies' abilities to implement and sustain caseload and workload reduction. The following profiles represent point-in-time snapshots. As agencies respond to budget constraints and other environmental factors, activities and results may change.
- New Jersey: Infrastructure changes and case practice model
- Minnesota: Workload analytic tool
- Larimer County, CO: Workload reports and informed decision-making
- Indiana: Staff expansion, enrichment, and practice reform
- Delaware: Designated funding, overhiring pool, and staff retention
- Arizona: Staffing, staff development, and prevention
New Jersey: Infrastructure Changes and Case Practice Model
Caseload management has played a central role in New Jersey's recent reform efforts with an emphasis on infrastructure improvements. In response to a modified settlement agreement (MSA), Charlie and Nadine H. v. Corzine, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) was created as a standalone, cabinet-level department in 2006. DCF hired hundreds of new workers, implemented more comprehensive and timely training for frontline staff and supervisors, and provided critical supports.
To serve children and families more effectively, DCF introduced a case practice model. The model articulates the department's guiding values, integrates best practices, and identifies family engagement as a core strategy. DCF is implementing the case practice model incrementally through extensive instruction, coaching, and mentoring to selected immersion sites, as well as broader training statewide. Caseload management makes possible the time caseworkers need to apply the case practice model. In turn, using the case practice model to serve children and families more purposefully supports caseload management.
Enhanced data and management tools represent another element in New Jersey's caseload management efforts. Safe Measures, an analytic tool, pulls data from SACWIS and the NJ Spirit data system and provides managers, supervisors, and workers with access to a range of information including current caseload levels, completion of key case events, family contacts, and compliance with Federal requirements. Managers have used Safe Measures to track progress against caseload standards set forth in the MSA, direct new staff and supports to identified areas of need, and distribute cases rationally across staff (DCF, 2007).
With a foundation of infrastructure, workforce, and service improvements in place, New Jersey entered the second phase of its massive reform effort in January 2009. Attention has shifted to sustainability, further institutionalizing the case practice model, developing quality review processes, and maintaining progress toward meeting specified outcome benchmarks and performance indicators.
Results: New Jersey has made substantial progress in achieving more manageable caseloads for caseworkers. In March 2006, more than 100 caseworkers in New Jersey had caseloads of more than 30 families; as of June 2009, no caseworkers had more than 30 families (DCF, 2009). According to a court-ordered independent monitor, in 2009 DCF achieved or exceeded the office average caseload standards set for intake workers (no more than 12 open cases and 8 new referrals per month), permanency workers (no more than 15 families and 10 children in out-of-home care at one time), and adoption workers (no more than 12 children). Individual caseload standards were met by 90 percent of all case-carrying staff. In addition, DCF showed significant improvements in child safety and placement outcomes (Center for the Study of Social Policy [CSSP], 2009).
The independent monitor credited New Jersey's caseload reduction with "beginning to make a difference in the quality of practice across the State, producing greater stability in the workforce, and creating an environment that provides staff the opportunity to follow the principles articulated in the case practice model." (CSSP, 2008).
For more information, contact Kathleen Niedt, DCF, 609.292.9062, firstname.lastname@example.org
Minnesota: Workload Analytic Tool
The Minnesota Department of Human Services (MDHS) has developed an innovative and easy-to-use analytic tool to help counties manage their child welfare workloads. The tool, constructed using MS Excel, allows county directors, managers, and supervisors to enter caseload and workforce data and project staff needs. By using the tool over time, counties in this county-administered child welfare system can assess whether they are under- or over-staffed to handle cases properly and also whether the distribution of staff across case type is appropriate (Hornby Zeller Associates, Inc., 2009a).
Critical data inputs for the analytic tool were generated from a statewide child welfare workload study conducted in 2009 through a contract with Hornby Zeller Associates. The study was not intended to calculate a caseload standard, but rather to develop a better understanding of the time required for staff to conduct children and family workgroups (Minnesota's term for cases). The workload study collected data to measure two types of time:
- Staff time available for casework. Through a random moment survey reflecting 4,000 random moments, staff in 40 counties were asked to report what they were working on. Survey results found that workers spent approximately two-thirds of their time on case-specific work (Hornby Zeller Associates, 2009b).
- Average time spent on cases. Under a case time study, workers recorded the time spent on various tasks for a sample of 2,155 cases. This information was used to calculate how much time was needed to handle different types of cases in accordance with State and Federal requirements.
Integrating the findings from both sources into the analytic tool, Minnesota has developed an ongoing mechanism for tracking caseloads and generating indicators of resource needs. The State has introduced the tool to county administrators through a series of training webinars and continues to plan and implement additional training and one-on-one technical assistance.
Given the importance of a stable workforce to meaningful workload measures, Minnesota's workload study also addressed retention and the role of supervisors in supporting and retaining staff. Nearly 900 caseworkers, case aides, and supervisors completed staff surveys indicating reactions to statements about various topics associated with retention (e.g., agency policy, training, supervision). The survey findings are being used in planning the State's new Supervision Initiative.
Minnesota experienced high response rates in each of the workload study components. The random moment survey yielded a 99 percent response rate, and more than 84 percent of caseworkers completed the staff survey. Administrators attribute this success in large part to the upfront activities conducted to ensure buy-in at the county level (C. Borsheim, personal communication, Jan. 13, 2010). These activities included inviting county directors to be part of the workload study advisory group, assigning "champions" in specific sites to oversee data collection, and clearly communicating the objectives and intended uses of the study. For examples of MDHS communication soliciting participation among county staff, see Minnesota Child Welfare Workload Study Memos (Minnesota Department of Human Services, 2009).
Results: Minnesota recognized that while it was introducing a number of new practice reforms, training initiatives, and quality assurance improvements, these efforts would have little effect with an inadequate workforce. While it is too early to assess their effects, recent workload management efforts are important steps to stabilizing the workforce. The workload study has helped MDHS gain a better understanding of how to measure staffing levels needed to provide quality services, which in turn provides a foundation for resource management and financing decisions. The recently introduced analytic tool has been well received by county administrators who described it as "awesome" and found it useful in considering staff workloads.
For more information, contact Christeen Borsheim, MDHS, 651.431.3857, email@example.com
Larimer County, CO: Workload Reports and Informed Decision-Making
In Larimer County, CO, workload reports serve as a tool to make informed decisions on work distribution and staff allocation. These reports have helped administrators and supervisors recognize where staffing needs are greatest and respond accordingly. Workload efforts also have supported other reform initiatives related to differential response, family team meetings, service delivery, and deinstitutionalization.
Using data from an internal time study coupled with other State and county workload studies, Larimer County developed time standards for assessments and ongoing services. These standards incorporated time for family meetings and travel and also reflect time adjustments for cases with multiple children and placement changes (Drendel & Suniga, 2008). The standards are integrated into the statewide information system, and weekly reports present workloads for every worker.
Larimer County administrators and supervisors use these workload reports to assess and redistribute ongoing work. In some instances, managers have moved staff from one unit with a lower workload to another with a higher workload. Based on workload reports, changes also have been made to the composition of paired teams implementing differential response (adding one intake worker and reducing one ongoing worker for each team). Presented with data from workload reports that highlighted the need for more upfront support, supervisors and staff readily accepted reallocation changes.
Results: Larimer County's workload reports have resulted in more equitable distribution of casework. They also have provided supervisors and program managers with tools for enhanced staffing and program decisions, supporting the implementation of differential response and deinstitutionalization. In addition, workload efforts have contributed to positive safety outcomes for children. For example, according to Jim Drendel, manager of the Larimer County Children, Youth & Family Division, maltreatment recurrence has dropped from over 10 percent in 2007 to below 4 percent in 2009 (J. Drendel, personal communication, Feb. 8, 2010).
For more information, contact Jim Drendel, Larimer County Department of Human Services, Children, Youth & Family Division, 970.498.6990, firstname.lastname@example.org
Indiana: Staff Expansion, Enrichment, and Practice Reform
With Indiana caseloads at times exceeding 50 children per worker, a statewide stakeholder group—the Indiana Commission on Abused and Neglected Children and Their Families—issued recommendations to the General Assembly in 2004 to reduce caseloads to CWLA standards (Folaran, 2004). The election of a new governor that year provided the catalyst for commitments to reform and support the child protection system. The State passed the best practice standards which included, among other systemic improvements, caseload standards.
In the following years, Indiana completed a large hiring wave, adding 800 family case manager positions to nearly double its frontline staff. The State hired an additional 150 supervisors and reorganized the statewide child protection administration through regionalization. The Indiana Statewide Assessment reported that the additional staff lowered caseloads for many of the State's family case managers (Children's Bureau, 2008b).
In addition, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS), established as a separate entity in 2005, redesigned its infrastructure, policies, and practices to support practice reform. The State's practice reform centers on a family engagement-focused practice model emphasizing five core skills—teaming, engaging, assessing, planning, and intervening (TEAPI). Administrators expect that this reform will "have long-term positive effects for children and families leading to shorter lengths of stay [in the child welfare system] and faster reunification or permanence, which will ultimately reduce caseloads" (DCS, 2009a).
Reinforcing the practice model and caseload reduction efforts, DCS launched multiple initiatives focused on training, staff enrichment, and retention:
- Enhanced pre-service training, which offers less classroom work and more on-the-job training and "transfer of learning"
- Field mentor program matching each trainee with an experienced family case manager who provides one-on-one assistance and structured feedback
- Supervisor initiative to improve supervisor-employee relationships with an emphasis on building communication and feedback skills
- Comprehensive exit interview tool that captures reasons for turnover and informs hiring and retention practices
Indiana also developed caseload management software to allow managers to assign assessments and ongoing cases according to best practice standards. In the coming years, the State plans to establish a caseload weighting system to more accurately reflect workloads and allow managers to distribute work and set expectations more effectively (DCS, 2009b).
Results: As of June 2009, 16 of 18 Indiana regions (89 percent) met the caseload standards of no more than 12 active cases related to initial assessments/investigations and 17 ongoing cases. Turnover of family case managers decreased to 16 percent (DCS, 2009a). The State also observed steady improvements in monthly caseworker visits and improved permanency outcomes on CFSR composite measures.
For more information, contact James Payne, Indiana DCS, 317.234.1391, email@example.com
Delaware: Designated Funding, Overhire Pool, and Staff Retention
Challenged by high staff turnover rates and concerns over well-publicized child fatalities, Delaware adopted an aggressive approach to managing caseloads that encompasses legislative support to meet caseload standards, hiring strategies, and initiatives to more effectively prepare and retain workers. Supported by legislation enacted in 1998 and 2004 and amended in 2007, Delaware set caseload standards (currently 11 cases for investigation workers and 18 for treatment workers) as well as supervisor standards (five family services workers per supervisor).
The legislation further tied allocation and funding of new positions to these caseload standards. Each year, based on projections of child abuse and neglect cases, the General Assembly is authorized to fund adequate staff so that caseloads do not exceed the established standards.
In a related innovative hiring strategy, the Division of Family Services (DFS) established an "overhire pool" to fill vacancies quickly and stabilize caseloads. For up to 15 positions, the agency assigns two people to one budget position slot. Overhires are available immediately to step into a position when a worker resigns. They also carry cases while newly hired workers focus on training, fill in temporarily during a maternity or medical leave, and receive assignments to units experiencing high fluctuations in cases.
In addition, Delaware also implemented several other recruitment, retention, and training efforts:
- Establishing a new career ladder with additional job categories for family service workers that enabled promotional opportunities
- Increasing salaries for workers with more than 1 year of experience
- Introducing a rapid replacement process for new workers, which draws on continuous interviewing and a hiring waiting list
- Expanding pre-service training to 125 hours and implementing formal mentoring and shadowing programs for new workers before they receive cases
- Providing enhanced supervisor training, setting competency-based performance expectations, and engaging supervisors in turnover prevention
These efforts were intended to keep staff levels stable and thereby better control caseloads.
DFS administrators attribute the involvement of community partners to their success in caseload management and reduced turnover (S. Roberts, personal communication, Feb. 5, 2010). In particular, the multidisciplinary Child Protection Accountability Commission has been instrumental in advocating for needed change.
Results: Overhire and rapid replacement processes reduce the impact of turnover by allowing a trained person to step into a vacancy as soon as it is announced and by reducing the need to redistribute caseloads or interrupt service delivery (DFS, 1999). Following implementation of the above workforce initiatives, staff turnover dropped substantially from approximately 48 percent in 1998 to 8 percent in 2009 (DFS, 2010).
Delaware child welfare caseloads are monitored monthly against standards. In 2009, based on fully functional workers, statewide investigation caseloads averaged approximately 13 (slightly above standard), while statewide treatment caseloads fell below the caseload standard of 18 (DFS, 2010). Based on progress evident in its CFSR, Delaware's initiatives earned it recognition as a Children's Bureau Promising Approach in Child Welfare.
For more information, contact Shirley Roberts, Delaware DFS, 302.633.2601, Shirley.Roberts@state.de.us
Arizona: Staffing, Staff Development, and Prevention
Between 2000 and 2010, Arizona's Department of Economic Security (DES) implemented several initiatives related to workload management. Many of these initiatives were sparked by then-Governor Janet Napolitano's Action Plan for Reform of Arizona's Child Protection Systemand supported by legislation passed during a 2003 Arizona Legislature Special Session (Napolitano, 2003).
As called for under the new legislation (HB 2024), Arizona established State-specific caseload standards.To inform these standards, a workgroup assessed the time needed to perform casework activities in Arizona in accordance with identified best practices (Costello, 2004). While the ideal best practice estimates were not fiscally viable, new standards were set in 2004, significantly below Arizona's prior caseload levels. The new standards called for a maximum caseload of 10 investigations, 19 in-home cases, and 16 children in out-of-home care.
To reduce caseloads and strengthen its workforce, Arizona implemented multiple strategies, which coincided with reforms outlined in the Division of Children, Youth and Family's (DCYF) Strengthening Families—A Blueprint for Realigning Arizona's Child Welfare System (DES, 2005). Multifaceted initiatives included:
- Additional staff. More than 375 new caseworker positions were authorized between 2003–2008, resulting in an approximate 50 percent increase.
- Recruitment and hiring strategies. While the State was actively recruiting new workers, it expanded employee benefits to include increased salaries and stipends for bilingual staff, workers with master's degrees in social work, workers in rural areas, and frontline investigators. (Due to budget cuts, these stipends have since been discontinued.) In addition, the State introduced a competency-based recruitment model and began offering a realistic job preview to promote better "fit" for new hires.
- Training and staff development. The State's Child Welfare Institute developed and trained new case managers on its CORE curriculum, which combined classroom instruction with use of prototype cases, simulations, and hands-on activities, followed by field training. In addition, a partnership with the Arizona State School of Social Work supports classes and supervised casework experiences for social work students and potential DCYF employees.
- Supervisor initiatives. Recognizing the link between supervision and retention, the State developed enhanced supervisor training and strengthened clinical supervision practices.
- Prevention and early intervention. Arizona introduced a major Family to Family initiative, focused on team decision-making, recruiting resource families, and building community partnerships. This strategy is intended to safely reduce the number of children in out-of-home care, thereby reducing caseloads. Arizona also expanded its Healthy Families program and offered an array of contracted in-home services to link at-risk children and families to needed services.
The sustainability of Arizona's workload management efforts has been challenged by the current economic environment. DCYF budget cuts have led to the suspension of some of the above programs, layoffs among 150 frontline workers in 2009, a hiring freeze, and severe reductions in prevention and family support services. At the same time, economic factors create additional stress on families and increase factors that place children at risk of maltreatment (DES, 2010). With the decrease in funded positions, the State is no longer staffed to meet casework standards.
Results: Arizona's initiatives have strengthened its capacity to attract, prepare, and support its frontline staff. While the impact on outcomes is not clear, improvements have been reported in the number of children in foster care and their parents receiving required contact with case managers (Children's Bureau, 2008a). Additionally, the expansion in prevention and in-home services appears to have had a positive effect on reducing repeat maltreatment reports (DCYF staff, personal communication, Feb. 12, 2009).
Initially, as staff numbers increased, Arizona experienced progress in reducing caseloads. However, budget cuts and unfunded positions, along with State increases in maltreatment reports, currently contribute to higher caseload levels. During the period July–December 2008, CPS specialists were carrying caseloads that were on average 19 percent above the caseload standard (DES, 2009).
For more information, contact Jakki Hillis, DES, DCYF, 602.542.3598, JHillis@azdes.gov
1 The examples are presented for information purposes only; inclusion does not indicate an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau, or Child Welfare Information Gateway. Back
This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway.