“I am not sure I can do this anymore. I don’t feel safe. I am overwhelmed. I don’t have support at work. I am done.”
These words spoken by my friend who is a child welfare social worker. Vickie also happened to be 6 months pregnant at the time. She stopped gaining weight due to the stress she was under and her doctor was worried.
Vickie had been out earlier that evening trying to track down the biological father of a child on her case load. This father had recently been convicted of beating up his pregnant girlfriend and leaving her on the side of the road with critical injuries. Vickie had been driving from apartment complex to apartment complex knocking on doors looking for him to do her monthly check-in.
I can almost picture your face right now reading this. An expression of shock and confusion.
Vickie ended up walking away from what she thought was her dream job.
It’s a story that plays itself out over and over again among social workers across our country every single day. Child welfare social workers blame stress, emotional exhaustion and job satisfaction as the top reasons for walking away from the job.
Nationwide, the average length of employment is less than two years1 and the turnover rate is estimated to be between 23%-60%2.
Most people don’t equate this high turnover rate with the success of children finding permanency, but it is in fact, the main reason kids linger in the system.
Children in foster care with one social worker during their time in care achieve permanency, on average, 74.5% of the time. In contrast when there is social work turnover, that drops to only 17.5%3.
As a former foster parent and a leader at Congregations for Kids (CFK), a nonprofit that supports children and families in the Greater Charlotte, NC area, I have first-hand experience with the turnover issue.
The largest agency we support came to us in 2018 naming social worker turnover one of their top challenges. That year that had experienced a 69% turnover rate. We immediately began brainstorming about a way to uplift these frontline workers in a way that really made them feel seen and known.
Within weeks, Socialight was born. The idea of being a light to a social worker was the vision. We essentially created an “adopt a social worker” program that allowed people in the community to become Socialights. Social workers could then opt into the program by giving us a little information about themselves. We then pair the Socialight with a social worker. Equipping the socialight with specific ways in which they are allowed to care for their social worker along with quarterly ideas on how to celebrate them has been the key to this program’s success.
Transforming People & Cities
By the end of 2019, we had 65 social workers involved in the program. The agency’s turnover rate went from 69% to 29%. By the end of 2020, we had over 100 matches in the program and the turnover rate dropped to 19%.
It’s amazing the relationships that have been born out of the Socialight program. We’ve seen Socialights support their workers in a variety of ways; candy baskets, handwritten cards of encouragements, weekly prayer calls, dinners, lunches, flowers for birthdays, artwork, books and beyond.
As a part of the Socialight program, CFK hosts two events per year for all social workers. These events celebrate social workers and also serve as a way for us to recruit more into the program. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen social workers brought to tears by someone simply thanking them for the work they do. To been seen and known is ultimately what we all need. Being a light for those who feel as though they are working in the darkness can transform people, cities, and ultimately the child welfare system.
CFK is happy to gift the Socialight program to anyone interested in doing this in your own city. To learn more, please email [email protected].