Does your child welfare team feel safe at work?

Prioritizing psychological safety to improve your workforce retention.

Britt Cloudsdale, MSW. Director of Site Implementation at CWEL.
Britt Cloudsdale, MSW
Director of Site Implementation
April 10th, 2024
Diverse group of professionals walk in papers in their hands.

It’s no secret—the child welfare workforce is experiencing a crisis.

Vacancies and turnover rates are higher than ever before.

To face our retention challenges, we must ask ourselves:

How does our work culture affect the psychological safety of our staff?

We know that careers in child welfare, while fulfilling, can be challenging. Secondary traumatic stress is a factor in this work that we can’t always control. What we can control, though, is what it feels like to show up to work every day at our organization.

A psychologically safe team will:

  • Share ideas, even those that may be unpopular
  • Provide honest feedback without fear of consequences
  • Own their mistakes—because continuous growth is normalized and encouraged
  • Trust their teammates
  • Show up as their authentic selves to work

Employees will also feel brave enough to share how they’re feeling. This allows leaders to fix any issues and retain a talented worker.

What can you do to cultivate a culture of safety in your workplace?

Embrace efforts to address race equity

Want to help your team feel psychologically safe? Start by tackling racism in the workplace.

The U.S. child welfare system has a history of racism. Child welfare agencies tend to be spaces where white supremacist culture can influence policy and practice.

Black, Indigenous, and Latinx staff can be at risk for exclusion or corrective action. They can even be fired when they go against the agency’s status quo.

If your agency has Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) strategies, review these amd ask yourself:

  • Where have you fallen short of where you’d like your agency to be?
  • Have your efforts resulted in change?
  • Do Black, Indigenous, and Latinx staff feel safe at work?

Learn how your staff feel using the Everyday Racism Scale. Be sure to stay connected to CWEL—consider becoming a site to engage in workforce development strategies with a race-equity lens.

Review–and improve!–your data

Do you know the primary causes of staff turnover at your agency? Do you know when staff are most likely to leave, or which teams are experiencing the highest turnover rates?

Do you know if Black, Indigenous, and Latinx staff are more likely to leave your agency, or if they leave earlier than their white counterparts? Do you know what staff think about your leadership team?

Your communication? Your improvement efforts?

The Quality Improvement Center on Workforce Analytics (QIC-WA) can help you with data collection to meet workforce challenges. With better data, you can make better decisions to improve staff psychological safety. There are also resources available via the Quality Improvement Center on Workforce Development.

Explore this topic as a team

The Capacity Building Center for States offers resources on fostering psychological safety:

  • First, learn about the concept as a team
  • Use the assessment tool to better understand how psychologically safe your team feels
  • You can also learn about addressing complex problems in their Change and Implementation in Practice series

Consider becoming a CWEL site!

CWEL offers free technical assistance strategies to improve your staff’s psychological safety. Learn more about our recruitment and retention strategies. Interested? Email us to see if CWEL is a good fit for your agency.