The initial introduction of workers to their jobs is important in setting expectations and connecting their work to the larger mission of the agency. For public child welfare caseworkers, the awesome responsibility of protecting
children starts with careful preparation for assuming case management responsibilities.
There are various models for acclimatizing new workers across the states, but the most important
aspect in any model is the ability of new workers to see experienced staff perform the work.
Combinations of training and ontheground work are common, with the didactic classroom training of
the past giving way to competencybased training and experiential learning curricula.
Workers should not assume case management responsibility without careful oversight by seasoned
supervisors. Often, training units provide both supervisory support as well as a peer environment
that encourages safe exploration of the caseworker role.
Mentoring, training and supporting workers is the agency’s task in creating a viable workforce.
Much of that work is facilitated by careful selection of workers in the first instance, and then
providing training and mentoring. There are several overarching themes that pervade job
expectation and function, and agencies must make sure that elements of these are infused into the
fabric of training and workforce development.
Written job descriptions are indispensable performance management tools for recruitment and
performance expectations. They are essential for making it clear to job applicants what the
position entails and for setting measurable expectations for new employees. Well constructed job
descriptions match skills, abilities and education to the tasks the position requires and should be
written and reviewed with staff members in the early stages of their employment and during
performance appraisal processes.
Disparities and Disproportionality
Public child welfare is required to establish policies and procedures and make available the tools
that workers need in order to work successfully with all the families they serve. These include
translation services, affirmative minority hiring practices and competent supervision, among
others. The key to offering quality services is that the workforce be aware of, trained to
understand and provide equitable treatment and services to all populations that its workers will
Trauma is a topic of particular concern for public workers as so many of the children and families
they work with are, in fact, victims of or witnesses to significant violence. Additionally, the
public agency workforce is highly susceptible to the negative effects of secondary trauma from
repeated exposure to these cases and the stress of the work they are asked to do.
Over time, repeated trauma will have a significant impact on workers. The most damaging part of
secondary trauma is its corrosive impact on the worker’s sense of competence, trust, worth and
hope. Agencies must be sensitive to this issue and provide supportive services that workers can
access confidentially and without concern that their competency or ability to continue to work will
be called into question. On the other hand, agencies should be prepared to counsel those who may
not be suitable for the work into other employment.
The focus of public agency work over the last decade has been to sharpen its practice and to use
the power of research to guide development of child welfare work and to underscore that workers
need to look for empirical evidence of their impact on clients and communities. Workers at every
level of the public child welfare agency must develop an appreciation of the value of using
evidence to guide and improve services to children and families.
The higherlevel information that workers now receive through evidenceinformed practice and
researchbased assessments makes it more important than ever that the workforce be taught to
challenge and connect what the worker knows from experience to the research available to guide
Public child welfare practice requires the use of critical thinking techniques at all levels of the
agency to gather and evaluate information regarding the children and families served in order to
make competent decisions regarding safety and effective intervention. Critical thinking is also
employed in the continual assessment of the impact of interventions on the family in order to
enable appropriate adjustment.
Supervisors and managers must be able to facilitate critical thinking while at the same time use
systemic thinking that aligns
existing case practice with the agency’s predominant philosophical approach, practice model and
organizational priorities. Management commitment to the development of critical thinking skills among both workers and
supervisors must be evidenced by willingness to direct valuable resources of time and funding to the mastery of this skill.
Given clear role definitions and behavioral expectations, there are many structures and supports
that need to be in place in order to maximize the performance of the child welfare workforce.
Timely feedback that clearly states actual performance compared to expected or desired performance
is important for changing behavior and improving practice and must be ongoing. Feedback can come
from peers, from clients, from data systems and from supervisors. Staff must be held accountable
for adherence to job expectation, ethics and operating tenets of the practice model.
Mechanisms need to be in place to support both formal and informal constructive and contextual
feedback to workers. These discussions should include the chance for workers to discuss their
accomplishments. Selfcorrection becomes a powerful tool for practice improvement. Discussions
should periodically include formal written performance appraisals that are based on written job
descriptions and clear behavioral expectations.
Performance appraisals should include or be attached to developmental plans for continuous
improvement. Employees should be involved in their own development. This should be an
individualized, proactive skill enhancement opportunity agreed upon by the worker and supervisor
that aligns with agency resources and leads to creating a wellprepared workforce invested in
achieving the agency mission.
Staff needs should be clearly assessed, written down and used as the point of access to ongoing
skill development. Training should be available to address worker deficiencies identified in this
process as well as opportunity for individual capacity building.
There are three types of staff development plans that can flow from performance appraisals. These
are: 1) remedial plans to enable the employee to meet job expectations; 2) development plans for
continuous improvement; and 3) developmental plans to build agency capacity and the employee career
All three are based on supervisory feedback, jointly agreed upon and directed to focus on the
worker’s needs and interests as well as building the agency’s capacity to achieve its mission. All
developmental plans should challenge the worker to reach for higher levels of performance whether
in their current job or by taking on a new endeavor. A good staff development process improves
worker morale, improves retention rates and most importantly, improves service delivery to
families. Resources must be available to keep worker competency at the level needed to perform the
duties required of the agency.
Remedial plans for workers who do not meet job expectations should derive from formal performance
appraisals and are developed between the supervisor and the employee. When an employee is found
lacking, plans are formulated around providing the employee with the tools to bring their skills up
to the level expected by the agency. Such remedial plans require additional supervisory oversight
of a worker’s performance.
Example: A worker has a workload established through a valid, reliable workload estimation
technique that is equitable to those managed by other staff in the same role at the same level.
However, he/she is unable to complete the necessary paperwork. This worker may benefit from writing
or time management training to enhance language or organizational skills. Whether either or both
would be helpful should be mutually determined by the worker and the supervisor.
It must be emphasized that remedial plans are not disciplinary in nature but are directly tied to
enhancing the worker’s performance. Employees should be notified when actions other than remedial
are contemplated. Workers who are unable to meet expectations may be counseled into other jobs
within the agency or other employment. However, employees who are unable or unwilling to meet job
expectation should be removed from the workforce.
Developmental plan with workers that meet job expectations should clearly identify what is needed
to maintain current functioning and identify areas for development that enable the employee to
reach a high level of performance in the current job or qualify for a career track for promotional
opportunity that will meet agency needs.
Developmental plan with workers that exceed job expectations should clearly identify what is needed
to continue to excel in the current job, take the current job to another level, qualify for
promotion and what areas for professional growth will meet agency needs. Agencies must look
critically at how they manage their own talent to ensure the retention and development of the most
talented workers. These plans may include:
Career Ladders: Staff Development and Human Resources must work together to create accessible
career ladders. Staff need to see the opportunity to grow in the agency. There must be a formal
process to enable staff to gain experience for higherlevel opportunities that fit the agency’s
need for succession planning and the individual’s need to take pride in their profession and
develop advanced skills. Ideally, there should be multiple paths available to develop
professionally and achieve status and rewards for becoming an excellent or specialized
practitioner, a trainer or field coach, as well as ways to enter supervisory jobs, management,
information technology, research and others areas.
Public child welfare work requires that fully qualified workers be promoted based on performance
and skill. Many states have civil service systems that reward longevity, but that should not be an impediment to the
advancement of qualified staff.
Successful engagement of unions and other worker representatives is both possible and highly
constructive in development of promotion policies.
Succession Planning: This is the agency process to identify talented staff and prepare them to fill
critical roles when jobs become vacant. Such planning is essential and can be used by agencies to
insulate themselves from the negative effects of cyclical or unexpected changes in leadership at
all levels across the agency. Succession plans are also excellent vehicles for grooming staff to
perform higherlevel tasks and provide a means for continuity when change occurs.
Training and individualized development plans are required for the development of staff at all
Research demonstrates that the success and organizational tenure of the worker is to a great degree
determined by the level and quality of supervision received. This must be widely considered when
assessing the performance of supervisors. Although, organizationally, supervisors are not
fullfledged members of the management team, supervisors should be included in decision making
processes and serve as the disseminators of management policy and information. Supervisors need
coaching or mentoring designed to ensure their full participation in the achievement of
Supervisors and managers must also tend to their own professional growth in order to cultivate a
cadre of future agency leaders. Attention and funding must be devoted to the development and
training of supervisors and managers. Every supervisor should be receiving regular supervision or
consultation from an agency administrator or manager, a peer or a group of peers. This process may
connect newer supervisors to more experienced mentors or coaches.
The organization should require developmental plans for all supervisors. Management must show
support of these plans by actively participating in structured learning events, lending their
expertise to development of desired competencies, and devising strategies to “free” supervisors to
participate in learning activities despite caseload/workload management challenges.
Supervisors’ developmental plans should include: