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Posted Tuesday, September 29, 2015 by Rich Bowlen

This Isn’t Why I Got Into Social Work

“We’ve been hearing for years from social workers, ‘this isn’t really what I got into this field to do,’” said Julie Ahnen, Dane County Department of Human Services manager of child protective services.

Julie’s sentiment is very familiar to anyone working in protective services, where every day caseworkers and social workers face emotionally draining work, heavy caseloads, and hours of paperwork. All they really want to do is help families. But many are spending 50%-80% of their day on documentation required for compliance rather than in the field spending face-to-face time with children and families, which is proven to improve outcomes and reduce reoccurrence.

A work environment like that makes successfully retaining social workers a difficult task. The situation is dire in many places. The Administration for Children and Families reports that social worker turnover is as high as 90% in some jurisdictions.

In order to increase retention, social services agencies need to control what they can to improve their social workers’ experiences. While social services leaders may not be able to control some stressful aspects of the job, one thing is completely within their control – the stress of paperwork.

Northwoods works with many protective services agencies across the country to help minimize the burden of paperwork and mitigate stress. Here are snapshots of two agencies that have eliminated paper by adopting a mobile document management solution that helps social workers spend less time on paperwork and more time with families:

divider-footer.pngDane County CPS Cut Turnover in Half

Dane-County-DHS-Staff-Turnover-Cut-in-Half-with-Mobile-App-for-Social-Workers-SueDane County Child Protective Services struggled with 30% turnover, low morale, excessive caseloads, and a backlog of 485 open cases. Here are the results since implementing Northwoods’ solution: 

  • Social workers save 2-3 hours per day, every day
  • Turnover was cut in half
  • More time to interact with families
  • 84% reduction in case backlog
  • Four former CPS workers asked to rejoin CPS after the Northwoods’ solution was introduced

"It probably saves me an hour or two a day."

- Sue DeBuhr, Initial Assessment Social Worker

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Beaufort County DSS Increased Retention by 13%

Beaufort-County-Reduces-Turnover-with-Mobile-Software-for-Social-Services-JacobBeaufort County Department of Social Services social workers were overwhelmed by paper files working in the field and then documenting the work back at the office. After investing in Northwoods’ mobile app, the agency has seen great results:

  • Social workers save 2-3 hours per day, every day
  • 13% increase in retention
  • More time to interact with families
  • Continuously audit-ready
  • 75% reduction in office supply costs

"I wouldn’t go to another agency to get paid more money if they didn’t have Compass® CoPilot because it just makes a world of difference."

- Jacob Meetze, Investigation and Assessment Social Worker

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Don’t get me wrong, those benefits are fantastic. However, I think the greatest accomplishment is that social workers feel like they have the time to do their very important work – engage in real social work to help strengthen families. Take it from Lisa Gibbs-Lee from Beaufort County DSS:

“I can go see a child at school more often or
go to a doctor’s appointment. 
I really feel like
I have time to work with families.”

To learn more about how we can help, view Northwoods’ case study and video, "Breaking the Burnout Cycle."

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Rich Bowlen Rich Bowlen is Director, Protective Services at Northwoods, where he is dedicated to improving the lives of caseworkers and social workers. Rich has 25 years serving in child protective services and is known for his passion for improving the lives of children.
 

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