As discussed in a previous post, overloading workers is contrary to effective case management. The Child Welfare Information Gateway in the USA has published a review which shows how important this is.
"Reducing and managing caseloads and workloads are not simple tasks for child welfare administrators. Agencies face a number of challenges, including negotiating budget crises and hiring freezes, addressing worker turnover, finding qualified applicants for open positions, implementing time-intensive best practices, and managing multiple reforms simultaneously (Day & Peterson, 2008). Even the basic determination of what caseloads and workloads currently are and what they should be can be thorny." (CWIG, 2010 accessed 2010/09/11 at http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/case_work_management/ )
Of course, it is not just the number of cases being managed that must be considered, but also the complexity of the cases. Too often, it is only the number of cases that gets considered.
The CWIG review also looks at a variety of initiatives that are being tried that range from hriing more workers, better training and case load supervision and monitoring as well as the policy issues that lie behind effective social work.
A New Zealand report just published also illustrates that poor case load management can often lead to workers simply moving from crisis to crisis and never really getting to the kind of work that makes long term differences in the lives of children.
The New Zealand report also echos what has been seen in many western child protection systems - too little opportunity for children who are going to stay in care to experience stability. The New Zealand Herald noted that the report concluded:
"A major probe by the Children's Commissioner's office has found that almost a quarter of the 5582 children in care at the end of last year had had more than six caregivers, with a maximum in extreme cases of 39." (accessed 2010/09/11 at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10672072 )
If we do not manage caseloads well, then these are the kinds of results that we can expect. Crisis oriented casework only addresses that which absolutely must be addressed leaving children and families with little oppportunity or support for the kinds of changes that alter the major trends that keep a family involved with child protection.
High caseloads also lead to burn out resulting in high staffing turnover. The New Zealand report concludes:
"But a quarter (of the children interviewed) said they had been moved to new placements 10 or more times and many experienced a high turnover of social workers. Caregivers also reported overworked social workers who failed to visit every two months as required, did not respond to messages and often quit without warning. One caregiver had three social workers in four months." (NZ Herald).
This result is inevitable. One wonders when we will start to see a different trend in child protection which will allow real and effective casework to be done more as the rule than the exception.
I will look at more of what the New Zealand report has to say in subsequent posts. Meanwhile, if you want to review the full report, you can do so at http://www.occ.org.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/7694/CC_ChildreninCareReport_09.09.2010.pdf