Over the course of the 20th century, as American society became ever more complex, industrialized, urbanized, and a safe haven for the world's most vulnerable, our society gradually became more socially conscious and the case worker's burden more laden. The paperwork required for patient safety, privacy, accountability, and continuity has grown algebraically alongside documentation to secure funding. More vulnerable clients with more complex problems requiring more complex documentation have begun to overwhelm the modern caseworker and "burnout" is becoming epidemic. Social service professionals are particularly susceptible because of the high levels of empathy required by their jobs. Striving to ease the suffering of clients who are often in crisis leads to emotional and physical depletion, and case worker burnout is the primary cause of the high turnover rate in social services.
All recent studies link caseworker overload with high turnover rates. Typical caseloads vary from agency to agency and from state to state, however, the average caseload for child welfare workers is between 24 and 31 children. A recent study in Illinois found that caseworkers could have no more than 15 cases per month in order to complete all legal and policy requirements. The study found that high caseloads not only affect quality of work, but also lead to emotional exhaustion and job dissatisfaction.
- An Ohio State University study found that the median annual turnover rate for frontline caseworkers across all years was 22%.
- In Kentucky, a third of the social services workforce has been lost to turnover since January.
- In Texas, 25% of social service employees jump ship within one year.
- One well-known study found that with one caseworker, the chance for a child to achieve a permanent and stable living situation was 74%. If a child had two caseworkers in one year, the odds dropped to 17%. With three caseworkers, it was a mere 5%.
- Once turnover persists, it creates conditions that lead to a seemingly never-ending cycle: experienced case workers don't have time to mentor new ones, caseloads increase, backlogs develop, tempers flare, pressures rise, and burnout continues to burn.
Self-Care For Caregivers
- Christina Borel, who teaches at Simmons School of Social Work, is a social work administrator who encourages her team of clinicians to practice self-care to mitigate burnout. According to Borel, this means creating an environment with “flexible scheduling, lots of continuing education, identifying opportunities for growth and development, increasing time off, and including self-care in their job descriptions, evaluations, and agenda for weekly supervision.” Borel adds, “Another way that we practice self-care at my agency is to actively identify and develop practices that help us sustain hope in the midst of suffering.”
- “Scheduling time for self-care is just as important as scheduling time for everything else,” says Shari Robinson-Lynk, professor of practice at SocialWork@Simmons. “Hoping and waiting until you have time means you rarely have the time to do it.”
- Remember to give yourself a rest. Take an hour to read a book or watch your favorite movie. If you have vacation or personal days, use them to step away from the workplace and recharge.
- Set short-term goals. Break down your obligations to small, attainable chunks or set out to learn a new skill. For social service professionals, the goal can be simple: Don’t give up on your clients.
- Just say NO. Resist the urge to take on new commitments. Decline to do tasks that will add extra stress to your life. It’s OK to say no because it means you are saying yes to your health. For social service professionals, this can be difficult because they don’t want to disappoint people who are relying on them.
- Reduce stress in your life by asking those around you for help. Lauren Fallon, academic advisor, and instructor in social work with groups, says it is OK to remember that you can rely on other people.
- If you’re feeling anxiety or stress in certain situations, your brain and body are trying to tell you something. Listen to what your emotions are saying about what you want and need, potentially with the help of a mental health professional.
- Mindfulness can help lessen anxiety and depression symptoms, and there are many ways to put it into practice. Take up yoga or unplug from technology and social media. Try out a few breathing exercises.
It Has Always Been Our Mission
Global Vision Technologies began with the mission to ease the burden of agencies and their caseworkers. When all is said and done, that is still our mission.
Casework isn't simple, but it can be easier!