Child Welfare Workforce Crisis & the Pat McGuire Child Welfare Education Fellowship Program
Child Welfare Workforce Crisis
In recent years, the child welfare system has experienced high rates of employee turnover. The workforce is struggling to retain workers in direct care, supervisory, and therapeutic roles. Many factors have contributed to high turnover including low compensation, high stress, and inadequate supervision. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an even greater strain on these essential workers and has further exacerbated the workforce crisis. As a result, children and families pay the price of workforce instability. They experience the impact of high caseloads and staff vacancies, which lead to increased risk and longer lengths of stay.
The child welfare workforce fills one of the most vital, challenging, and complicated roles in the lives of Illinoisian families. For example, they ensure abused and neglected children and families are safe, stable, healthy, educated, employed, and connected. By highlighting available strengths, supports, and resources, they strive to empower individuals, groups, and communities. This workforce crisis creates an unsustainable work environment, in addition to an unsafe future for our youth.
Child welfare staff complete on-going risk and safety assessments for children in foster care and intact families. Also, they develop child and family-centered service plans. In addition, child welfare staff provide recommendations to the court pertaining to permanency for the youth and family. Furthermore, they aim to keep families intact and prevent the need for foster care. By coordinating services to address substance use, mental health, domestic violence, and other obstacles, they work towards this goal. We agree that having a “well-trained, highly skilled, well-resourced, and appropriately deployed workforce is foundational to a child welfare agency’s ability to achieve outcomes for the vulnerable children, youth and families it serves”*.
Recommendations to Alleviate the Child Welfare Workforce Crisis
Meanwhile, for years ICOY members have participated in several workgroups and subcommittees. They have been developing suggestions to address Illinois’ Child Welfare Workforce Crisis. As a result of this continued work, ICOY has gathered recommendations meant to recruit, retain, & incentivize the child welfare workforce.
For instance, one of these recommendations is to implement and manage the Pat McGuire Child Welfare Education Fellowship Program. This Program is a Public Act providing financial support to those pursuing higher education in the social work field. According to WGEM, former Senator Pat McGuire said, “It will reduce or eliminate the student loan debt of social work degree owners, enabling them to continue working long-term for intact family services/purchase of service agencies rather than leaving after two years for better-paying employment.”
Senior Policy Analyst Kacy Anderson has provided the following analysis of the Public Act.
Pat McGuire Child Welfare Education Fellowship Program
Public Act 102-0080 Bill Analysis
Public Act 102-0080 amends the Children and Family Services Act and requires the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to establish and administer the Pat McGuire Child Welfare Education Fellowship Pilot Program, effective July 1, 2021.
Beginning the 2021-2022 academic year and continuing for 6 academic years, DCFS shall establish the Pat McGuire Child Welfare Education Fellowship Pilot Program. The Program will provide financial assistance to eligible students. For example, the students must be pursuing a degree in social work at a participating institution. In addition, these students are required to seek and maintain employment at a DCFS-contracted purchase of services (POS) agency upon graduation. Even further, the participating institution and DCFS must find that the applicant meets all criteria established by DCFS.
Subject to appropriations, eligible applicants pursuing either a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree are welcome to apply. DCFS may award a stipend of up to $10,000 each academic year for a maximum of 2 academic years. At the maximum, the program will offer a total of $20,000 in stipends for 2 academic years combined.
To date, DCFS has identified four universities within Illinois that have expressed interest in the program:
- University of Illinois – Chicago
- Governor’s State University
- Northeastern Illinois University
- Illinois State University
DCFS has signed a contract with one university and has issued fellowship stipends to applicants who met the established criteria.
- DCFS and participating institutions shall determine renewal criteria for assistance.
- Moreover, each participating institution will post criteria and eligibility requirements to receive a stipend award on their respective website.
- In addition, the institutions will report the information to the Department of the Board of Higher Education and DCFS; the Board shall post the information on their respective websites.
Prior to receiving the stipend, eligible applicants will sign an agreement with DCFS. Within 6 months of graduating from the participating institution with a BSW or MS, the stipend recipient must seek, apply, and accept a full-time direct service position at a POS agency located in Illinois.
Upon Acceptance in the Program
- After graduating, the recipient must remain a full-time direct service employee at a POS agency. Their employment must span at least 18 months for each academic year they received the stipend.
- Consequently, should the recipient fail to work at a POS agency within 6 months of graduation, DCFS will require the recipient to repay the total amount of the stipend. Within 90 calendar days after the 6-month period, repayment will begin.
- The repayment shall be prorated to the fraction of the employment obligation not completed, at a rate of interest equal to 5%. If applicable, repayment may include reasonable attorney’s and collection fees.
- A stipend recipient must immediately notify the participating institution and the Department of any changes to their enrollment status. Furthermore, the recipient will communicate if they withdraw from the social work program for which they accepted a stipend.
Termination from POS:
- Similarly, should a recipient’s qualified employment terminate for any reason, the recipient must apply for and accept a qualified full-time position at a POS agency. The new position must begin within 90 days of the recipients’ termination of full-time employment, otherwise the stipend recipient is subject to repayment of funds.
- Should a recipient’s qualified employment terminate for cause prior to the completion of the program’s employment requirements, the recipient shall repay the total amount of stipends within 90 days of termination.
- Consequently, DCFS will calculate the amount of the prorated repayment based on the completed amount of required employment.
Reporting and Tracking:
- On or before October 1, 2023, and each October 1 thereafter during the Pilot program, DCFS shall provide a report and evaluation of the results of the program at each participating institution to the General Assembly and the Office of the Governor.
- Each participating intuition shall track a student’s eligibility under the program, completion of educational requirements, costs of each student’s tuition, university fees, books, and the application of the student’s stipends during the enrollment at the participating institution.
- In addition, the report will identify the location and POS agency of employment. Furthermore, the report will state the duration and termination of the recipient’s employment.
- However, the sharing and reporting of student data must preserve the confidentiality of all information. For instance, the names of stipend recipients are not subject to disclosure.
Public Act 102-0080 defines ‘” Department’ means the Department of Children and Family Services.
Public Act 102-0080 defines ‘” Direct services’ means a position in foster care services, intact services, foster care licensing, adoption, or permanency or a supervisory position in the practice area”.
Public Act 102-0080 defines ‘” Eligible applicant’ means a student who is enrolled in a social work program of study at a participating institution of higher education and who meets all of the qualifications as determined by the Department”.
Public Act 102-0080 defines ‘” Participating institution” means a public university in this State that is a party to an intergovernmental agreement entered into with the Department [of Children and Family Services] in order to participate in the program established under this Section.
Public Act 102-0080 defines ‘” Tuition, university fees, and books” includes the customary charge for instruction and books or course material and the additional fixe fees charged for specified purposes that are required generally of students who are not program applicants under this Section for each academic year for which a program applicant under this Section actually enrolls, but does not include room and board, transportation fees, fees payable only once, breakage fees, and other contingent deposits that are refundable in whole or in part. The Department [of Children and Family Services] may adopt, by rule not inconsistent with this Section, detailed provisions concerning the computation of tuition, university fees, and books”.
*Casey Family Programs (2017, October). Information Packet Healthy Organizations: How does turnover affect outcomes and what can be done to address retention? Retrieved from https://caseyfamilypro-wpengine.netdna- ssl.com/media/HO_Turnover-Costs_and_Retention_Strategies-1.pdf
Written by the ICOY Policy Team with analysis provided by Senior ICOY Policy Analyst Kacy Anderson. Editing contributions by ICOY CEO Andrea Durbin and Communications & Marketing Manager Melissa Franada. Find more information on the ICOY Staff.