Grant to help Butler County Children’s Services fight labor shortage

State makes money available to agencies to help with turnover issue.

Keeping social workers on the job who have to remove children from their parents’ homes is difficult — because the work itself is so difficult.

To try to keep folks working with Butler County Children’s Services, it has been given a large state grant.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has made $15 million available to help local children services agencies retain and recruit frontline workers. Butler County’s share is $406,000. The grants are being awarded through the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.

PCSAO Assistant Director Scott Britton told the Journal-News there are rampant labor shortages everywhere but “turnover in children services matters in some really important ways, not just for the children but for the case workers who are left behind, they’re stuck with higher caseloads and that tends to mean they’re more likely to leave when they get frustrated with that.”

“Turnover in children services is different from turnover in retail or in the restaurant business or in a factory,” Britton said. “Every time a case workers turns over we know that children linger in foster care longer and so that turnover has a direct impact on children and families and their involvement in their system.”

Butler County JFS Executive Director Julie Gilbert told the Journal-News the turnover rate as of the end of June was 11% down from 15% last year when the Great Resignation gripped the national labor force. When the pandemic hit the turnover rate jumped from 11% to 14%. The agency hit a high in 2014 of around 30% when the agency was locked in a bitter labor dispute with management over the union contract.

Statewide Britton said from 2015 and 2016 some agencies in the state saw a 100% turnover rate, overall it went from 24% in 2016 to 45% in 2019 and dropped a bit to 38% when the pandemic hit.

The grant money — which is on a reimbursement basis — can be used for things like sign-on and retention bonuses, student loan and tuition payments and other programs outside direct payments.

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“There is an area around agency culture and climate initiatives, we know that climate is extremely important in terms of having a place where you work where you feel psychologically safe and well supported,” Britton said. “There is some funding available for flexible work schedule supports in this sort of new post pandemic era of telecommuting. There is funding for supervisor coaching, we know a lot of people don’t leave a job they leave their supervisors.”

Gilbert said they are still reviewing their options for using the state’s money.

“Turnover is something we are always paying attention to and more than just the numbers and rates. We are looking at where turnover is occurring and how we can shift resources to make sure we have a workforce responding to abuse and neglect, visiting with children, and providing services to families in crisis,” Gilbert said. “Retaining an experienced workforce is critical to our ability to protect children.”

Becky Palmer, president of the Children Services social worker’s union, told the Journal-News she is glad to hear the state has made money available because their agency is having trouble both retaining veteran workers and attracting new talent. She said she also hopes they will be consulted on spending the new funding.

“We have to be more competitive with our compensation package and benefits. Many agencies are utilizing a hybrid schedule and this seems to be very important for all the workers right now. We’ve seen that it works and we have to change with the times or we will remain like this,” Palmer said. The children and families in the county depend on us to ensure safety and services, but when a case worker changes every two months, we diminish their safety and trust.”

Britton said the agencies must submit a memorandum of understanding outlining how they would like to spend the money and since it is a reimbursement grant they can include efforts made starting on June 14 and going through June 30, 2023.

Commissioner Don Dixon said social workers are unique, and they aren’t just there for the paycheck.

“It’s just a hard position to keep people in, I understand the money the thing, it’ll probably help a little but money doesn’t fix a lot of those issues you know, the kind of stressful jobs and the kind of environment you’re dealing with,” Dixon said.

“A lot of good things don’t happen every two minutes down there, it’s just a hard job. Every day you get up and you know what you’re going to have and you’re going to have more of the same thing which is not good, just a different face and different name. God bless the social workers. It’s not money that motivates them, I know that.”

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