Finding “Health” and “Meaning” in Texas-Sized Turnover: Application of Seminal Management Principles for Administration and Research in U.S. Public Child Welfare Agencies

  • Nicole Willis Texas Southern University
  • Nancy Chavkin Texas State University, School of Social Work
  • Patrick Leung University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work
Keywords: Public child welfare, turnover, retention


Public child welfare agencies in the United States have struggled with high turnover rates, especially among caseworkers. Research has explored turnover in terms of negative organizational outcomes, and efforts have been developed to reduce overall turnover rates. However, there has been little change in turnover rates in the last 30 years. The public child welfare system is inclined to higher turnover due to the unique nature of the work. Efforts to reduce the overall turnover rate fail to recognize the heterogeneity and healthy aspects of turnover unique to public child welfare organizations, which present challenges for both practice and research. By critically questioning how turnover is socially constructed, measured, and addressed, and integrating seminal management principles, a more meaningful metric can be developed. These challenges are explored, and recommendations are proposed for administration and research that include reconstructing and applying a new perspective on turnover to inform and evaluate initiatives that can reduce the impact of dysfunctional turnover within public child welfare organizations.

Author Biographies

Nicole Willis, Texas Southern University
Assistant Professor of Social Work at Texas Southern University
Nancy Chavkin, Texas State University, School of Social Work
Regents' Professor and Director of the Center for Children and Families
Patrick Leung, University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work
Professor and Director of the Office for International Social Work Education