IGNITING THE POTENTIAL the Health and Human Services Workforce: Investing in Your Workforce and Moving Up the Value Curve

By Brittain, Charmaine; Ayers, Carl | Policy & Practice, August 2018 | Go to article overview

IGNITING THE POTENTIAL the Health and Human Services Workforce: Investing in Your Workforce and Moving Up the Value Curve


Brittain, Charmaine, Ayers, Carl, Policy & Practice


Human services agencies achieve their mission of serving children, families, and vulnerable populations through their people--their workforce. An emphasis has always been placed on providing good practice, but not so much on the workforce that facilitates services.

In the early 2000s, high turnover in the workforce arose as an issue and much has been done in these intervening years to determine what makes a good workforce and how to achieve it. At the same time, many in the human services field adopted the Human Services Value Curve to improve the value generated by the agency and client outcomes. A blueprint for activities associated with the Value Curve helps human services agencies strive for growth on the curve. As agencies have integrated the Value Curve in their practice and learned what it takes to have successful outcomes for the populations served, well-qualified and highly trained staff at all levels of the organization have emerged as keys to these successes. The model challenges our workforce to be knowledgeable of both micro- and macro-practices to create lasting systemic changes in the family and community that ultimately benefit those we serve. Virginia's commitment to moving up the Human Services Value curve and improving the agency has led to investing in their workforce.

Research shows the impact of turnover both on the agency's bottom line and on client outcomes. In one study in Texas, the Sunset Commission found the cost of turnover to be $ 54,000 per employee needing to be replaced. (1) As human services agencies face higher turnover rates, some well over 40 percent, the fiscal impact can be enormous (for example, $ 21 million per year for a 1,000-person agency), not to mention the disruption to continuity of services, changes in goals, and the burden on remaining staff who need to cover for departed employees. Furthermore, research going back to the initial Child and Family Services Reviews in the early 2000s shows that high turnover leads to a failure to respond to child abuse complaints expediently, a lack of case plan completion, reduced worker contact with children and families, maltreatment recurrence, and a lack of timely permanency.

Achieving an effective workforce requires a substantive investment in time and resources and a commitment to the process. No one intervention, such as improved training or even increased pay, will result in significant differences in employee retention. Rather, it requires a multi-pronged approach using a variety of interventions, both small and large in scope, to make a difference in reducing turnover. Approaches should be customized to the individual context and resource availability of each agency. Like service delivery with families, the process starts with a comprehensive assessment to understand the agency's unique strengths, issues, and challenges and then the development and implementation of a plan specific to the agency.

The Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS), responsible for the administration of child welfare services and child and adult protective services training, decided to address their workforce issues, starting with a training system assessment. Through a partnership with the Butler Institute for Families at the University of Denver, they conducted a mixed-methods approach to understanding their current training system and scanning for training system best practices across the nation through a survey of more than 20 state and local agencies.

The internal assessment of Virginia's training system found that workforce stability is a key challenge in administering a statewide training system. Due to high turnover, newly hired staff is expected to carry a full caseload and engage in foundational training simultaneously, which does not lead to the ideal learning environment. Also, given the distances to training sites, there is a need to balance online and in-person trainings and make training consistently available across the state. …

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