Monday, May 10, 2010

The Most Thankless Job

I'm going to take a break today from whining about my un/under-employment situation and talk about what I consider to be the most thankless job in the country.

This is not the Most Stressful as defined by CareerCast. It's not even in the Top Ten (although, c'mon, Public Relations is?).

No, my candidate for the Most Thankless Job Going is Child Welfare Worker. My guess is that the reason Child Welfare Worker does not hit the Most Stressful list is because the folks doing the job burn out so quickly and move on to something a little less stressful. They most likely come in to the position as a committed idealist determined to make a difference for the children but often move on in only two or three years.

Here's a few fact from the National Association of Social Workers for your reading pleasure:

- Turnover of child welfare workers is estimated to be between 30 and 40 percent annually nationwide. Rates range from a low of zero percent to a high of 600 percent. (GAO, 2003)
- The average tenure of child welfare workers is less than two years. As a result, supervisors often have only three years of experience. (GAO, 2003)
-The average annual salary for public agency workers is $33,000. The average annual salary for private agency staff is $27,000. (ACF, APHSA, CWLA, 2001)
- Child welfare workers’ salaries are significantly lower than salaries for employees in safer and more supportive work environments, such as teachers, school counselors, nurses, and public-health social workers. (GAO, 2003)

I was a Sociology major my first time through school and shared a lot of classes with Social Work majors. In later years, I've worked on a number of Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information Systems (SACWIS) with Child Welfare Workers. In creating Test Scenarios for testing SACWIS applications, I haven't needed to actually know any Child Welfare Workers to know why I think they have the Most Thankless Job. All I've had to do is read the news stories.

Child Welfare Workers hit the news when a child dies. If the death is at the hands of a parent the questions start with "Where was DCF/DCFS/C&FS? Why was this child still in an abusive home?" If the death is at the hands of a Foster Parent, the questions are, "How could you have approved that home?" If the death is at the hands of a friend of the parent or foster parent, the same questions are applied.

Yet for all these questions, I've seen "news stories" all over the country where the lede was "Why is Child Welfare Investigating Innocent Parents and Taking Their Children?"

As I say, it is a Thankless Job. They are second guessed no matter what decisions they make. And many of those decisions are often required by law. Such as the decision on when to commence an investigation into allegations of child abuse or neglect. Many states have designated "mandatory reporters" who are required by law to report any suspicions of abuse or neglect. Teachers, Doctors, Nurses, Counselors are all groups that fall in this category in most states. Or it might be an anonymous phone call to the local Child Abuse Prevention Hot LIne. If enough credible information is provided, then the Child Protection Investigation HAS to be opened. If it turns out to be a feud between neighbors (which is not at all unheard of), the investigator will close the investigation as "Unsubstantiated/Unfounded/Whatever term used by your state" often noting for the record that the allegations may have been due to a fight.

But the investigator DOES have to conduct an investigation. And no matter what the investigation shows, someone will complain that Child Services is over-stepping their bounds or not doing their jobs properly.

So for everyone who claims to have a stressful job (Public Relations? Sheesh), think about those folks tasked specifically to protect children and the consequences when a wrong decision is made. There's a very valid reason why there's so much turn over in the field.

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