Michigan Agencies Seek Strategies To Address Child Protection Worker Shortage
This article is part of Health, a series on how Michigan communities are rising to meet health challenges. It is made possible by funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.
Michigan child welfare workers have served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, doing what they can to build resilient families, keep children at home, guide young offenders through the on the right track and connect the children who need it most to foster families and adoptive parents. However, the state is currently facing what an industry leader called “critical shortage“child protection workers.
“COVID has put enormous additional stress on frontline workers, but child protection workers have received very little public or government recognition or risk premiums,” said Duane Breijak, executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. “When they make house calls, they put themselves in danger.”
However, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and other Michigan agencies are considering various strategies to fill the need for workers.
“We do everything possible to support our staff, as needed, in these difficult situations,” said Demetrius Starling, executive director of the MDHHS Children’s Services Agency. “A lot has happened as a result of the pandemic, including the social work climate which has resulted in some of our turnover as a service. We’re looking for innovative ways to keep people on board. “
Misperception, stress and wages
While media portrayals often give work a bad name, removing children from homes is not the goal or even remotely on the job list of most child protection workers.
“When the public thinks of social workers, they often do not have a positive image because of media and television portrayals of them abducting children, separating families,” says Breijak. “It’s not what the job is and does in the long run.”
When it comes to meeting the needs of young people, the Children’s Services Agency takes a holistic approach that puts families first. Its child welfare workers provide parenting classes on child rearing, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and links to community resources that address relevant social determinants of health. impact on the family – for example, access to food, shelter, employment, health care or transport.
“We provide resources that are beneficial to the family as a whole,” Starling says. “We are also providing resources to families so that children can safely reunite with their parents in their homes or be removed if needed and find foster homes for these children. Our child protection workers also provide support to young people in the juvenile justice system so that they can return safely to their communities. “
The misperception of what child welfare workers do may be one of the reasons people shy away from this career, but other reasons contribute to shortages among this vital workforce. in Michigan. The starting salary for a worker at an accredited nonprofit child welfare agency is about $ 10 to $ 12 an hour.
“It’s a very difficult area to get into. Most workers have an extreme emotional toll. They work under high stress, ”says Breijak. “Other factors that contribute [are that] many of these positions at the undergraduate level or below have low salaries, administrative burdens and a fear of violence when working in the field. These are also among the lowest paid jobs at the master’s level. “
Virtual recruitment, retention and recourse
Starling notes that the Children’s Service Agency is considering incentives such as shift premiums, bonuses and modified work schedules as a means of recruiting and retaining top quality talent.
“This post-pandemic climate, combined with increases in wages and benefits in the general workforce, makes it more difficult to recruit the best talent, not just in the public sector. The private sector is also facing challenges. this, ”Starling said. “We are working hard. Our people have a vision in place. It is not something that will go away. We will continue to come to the table to discuss ideas and strategies for retaining and recruiting people. We are also reaching out to our unions, private partners and people in the community to glean ideas on how we can recruit and retain top staff. Our young people and our families deserve to have the best and the brightest in these jobs. “
The agency is also forging new partnerships to recruit more child protection workers through virtual career fairs and outreach activities to students of college social work programs, not only in Michigan but also. in neighboring states. Breijak believes that 6,500 Michigan students are enrolled in social work programs.
“In Michigan, many of our schools of social work have partnerships that create a pipeline to place students in internships that will hopefully lead to careers upon graduation,” said Breijak. “This has been really important in trying to increase this area of our workforce.”
He notes that while COVID-19 has taken its toll on the child welfare workforce, it has also inspired new strategies that could reduce the impacts of this workforce shortage. Telehealth and other virtual options have proven to be very effective as a long-term social work strategy.
“A lot of people thrive on these virtual options,” says Breijak. “For some, transportation is an issue or they have to take time off work to attend face-to-face meetings. And the virtual options make more things accessible. region, you can connect with social workers statewide. “
While some Michigan counties don’t have a working psychiatrist or full-service hospital, Breijak says every county has social workers who help children.
“Child welfare workers are in schools, in hospital systems, in nonprofits and in government,” he says. “There are social workers out there, whether they know it or not.”
Redefining Child Protection Work in Detroit
A shining example of child protection work in Michigan is a pilot program, run by the MDHHS and Brilliant Strait, which addresses child abuse and neglect through a preventive strategy that uses peer parent partners to help resolve social determinants of health among families at risk. These mentors provide lived experience, have children of their own, and undergo extensive training in mental health peer support and how to work within MDHHS systems. In 2020, five postal codes in Wayne County dominated the state in the number of children removed from their homes and placed in foster care. This program provides support to families at risk of abuse and neglect before this happens.
Helen Paige, Parent Partner of the Pilot Program.
“We have found that the needs are increasing and not decreasing,” says Cindy Eggleton, co-founder and CEO of Brilliant Detroit. “It is important to be there – not just in times of crisis, but to walk alongside families. These are difficult times for many families. Especially for us and our organization, we are reaching out more and enabling a little more grace. People are It’s about not giving up on each other and getting things done. “
Expanding this preventive model is another way for public and nonprofit organizations to help address the shortage of graduate child protection workers. Breijak agrees that programs like Brilliant Detroit’s and the MDHHS Protect MiFamily The project, a 15-month in-home prevention and preservation service for at-risk families, will be key to addressing the lack of child protection workers in the future.
“The drop in the total rate of children in foster care, the work to expand home visiting programs and many other things that are happening will reduce the need in theory,” he says. “There is a lot of good work going on both at the clinical and macro level, stronger partnerships and policies that ensure our children are in better situations.”
However, frontline child protection workers will always be essential to ensuring the physical well-being and mental health of Michigan children. When asked why a person should consider working in child protection as a career, Eggleton gives a compelling answer.
“The reward is that you can be that person who changes a child’s life and puts them on the path to the future,” she says. “There isn’t a career more difficult in some ways, but nothing is more rewarding. It is one of the most important jobs if you want to make a difference in your world and change lives.”
A freelance writer and writer Estelle Slootmaker is happiest writing about social justice, wellness and the arts. She is the editor-in-chief of development news for Fast growing medium and L’Arbre Amigos chairs, Wyoming City Tree Commission. His greatest achievement is his five incredible adult children. You can contact Estelle at [email protected] Where www.constellations.biz.
Photos of Duane Breijak by Roxanne Frith. Photos of Helen Paige and Cindy Eggleton by Nick Hagen. Photo by Demetrius Starling courtesy of MDHHS.