Today’s social workers work within a bureaucracy that overworks them, underpays them and fails to provide adequate support and training. As a result, many of the children they are tasked with helping do not receive the attention they need and do not get the services they require. The endangerment of children leads many of us to blame the social workers. Social workers are the easy target of our concerns and anger, while the larger child welfare services bureaucracy is let off the hook.

In this essay, School of Social Policy & Practice experts Antonio Garcia and Christina DeNard mindfully discuss the social work bureaucracy, the scope of its problems as well as solutions that can be implemented. They also explore how political elections can positively impact social workers and subsequently, the safety of children under their supervision.

What You Need to Know

  • The social worker’s average caseload often exceeds the recommended level, frequently by double or more.
  • Case workers work in agencies that do not provide adequate training.
  • Social welfare agencies face high staff turnover rates.
  • Many social agencies face budget crises and hiring freezes and cannot recruit qualified applicants.
  • Federal funding for child welfare services has declined during the last 20 years.

Potential Solutions

  • Reallocate funding to implement innovative and effective programs.
  • Provide more training to help case workers properly screen and assess need and understand effective treatment strategies.
  • Fight for more court oversight to ensure case management follows existing federal policy.
  • Introduce better decision-making tools to get more minority children access to much needed mental health services.
  • Allocate more funding to preventative services and programs.
  • Provide social workers more job support.

Download PDF of Key Points

How You Can Help

Vote to Improve Funding
The largest funding stream for child welfare services is the Title IV-E provision in the Social Security Act. The amount of money states receive from this funding stream, especially funds for foster care, has steadily decreased during the last two decades because the income criteria that determine whether children’s expenses are reimbursable by the federal government has remained unchanged during that time. States are relying on state and local government funds, as well as related programs such as Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, to help close the funding gap. Since child welfare agencies now receive a combination of federal, state and local funds, voters can have an impact at many levels. When examining political candidates at the federal, state or local level make sure you consider those who are committed to funding child welfare programs. Their commitment will help provide agencies with more funds for child welfare services.

Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act
A critical piece of legislation that helps states allocate funds to different welfare services, the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, is eligible for reauthorization in 2016. This means Congress will have the ability to implement changes to the way child welfare federal funds are allocated. This is an opportunity for you, the voter, to contact your congressional representative and senator to advocate for states ability to redistribute federal funds as they see fit. This is an opportunity to provide more states the opportunity to reallocate funds and promote child safety.

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About the author

Antonio Garcia, MSW, PhD

Dr. Antonio Garcia joined the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania as an assistant professor in 2012. His research trajectory is informed and enriched by his wealth of experience as a former Child Protective Services Worker and Supervisor in Washington State. Since earning his doctoral degree in Social Welfare at the University of Washington in 2010, his research and publication record has focused on understanding epidemiological trends related to children of color’s experiences in foster care; and etiological explanations for their increased risk of out-of-home displacement, and lack of access to and use of effective mental health interventions as compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Additionally, his post-doc training at the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center in San Diego, CA between focused on identifying how to shrink the research to practice gap to ameliorate these disparities.
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