Study Shows New Child Welfare Professional Development Model Making Positive Impacts in First Year

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April 27, 2017
CFRP Careers

AUSTIN, Texas — Maintaining a high-quality, professional, and stable workforce is integral to any child welfare agency’s capacity to fulfill its mission. To build a strong workforce, child welfare agencies must recruit and hire qualified applicants, provide training that adequately prepares new caseworkers to perform their job responsibilities, and retain high performing staff.

However, the recruitment and retention of high-quality staff is a persistent challenge for child welfare agencies across the country. The Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) at The University of Texas at Austin, LBJ School of Public Affairs, provides insights in a new report on an initiative that is contributing to building a stronger Child Protective Services (CPS) workforce in Texas.

In 2014, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) launched Transformation, a comprehensive set of initiatives that aims to improve the way CPS supports the safety, permanency, and wellbeing of children. One of the goals of Transformation is to strengthen the CPS workforce through training and support that better prepares frontline staff to perform their jobs.

“Texas has made it a top priority to continuously improve in all areas of the child welfare system, including how caseworkers are trained, retained, and supported,” said Dr. Cynthia Osborne, policy professor, and CFRP director. “We’ve been asked to help the state understand whether the new approaches for training and supporting staff are working and why.” 


A key component of Transformation is the introduction of an innovative model for training new caseworkers, known as CPS Professional Development (CPD), which CPS rolled-out gradually across the state from January to November 2015. CPS restructured the caseworker training and learning process from a more standardized and predominantly classroom-based approach to a model that emphasizes field-based training adapted to the local context, mentoring, structured supervision, and individualized, ongoing learning. CPD was designed to provide new caseworkers with a realistic job preview early in their tenure, help the agency better assess goodness-of-fit during training, and provide caseworkers with hands-on work experience prior to assuming their caseload, with the goal of better preparing caseworkers for the job and improving staff retention.

Osborne and her team at CFRP found that during the first year of statewide implementation of CPD, the training model is achieving the intended goals and contributing to building a higher-quality, more stable CPS workforce that will support the program’s mission to protect children from abuse or neglect.

“We surveyed thousands of new and veteran caseworkers and their supervisors and conducted numerous focus groups in every region of the state,” Osborne said. “After a year of implementation, we were able to measure the direct and positive impact of the CPS Professional Development model on the CPS workforce.”

Highlights of the findings from the full report include:

  • CPS staff overwhelmingly report that the hands-on and experiential approach under the CPD model is the right approach for training new caseworkers.
  • CPD-trained caseworkers are 18 percent less likely to leave within their first year than caseworkers trained under the old Basic Skills Development (BSD) training model, resulting in approximately 340 fewer caseworkers leaving the agency, which equates to approximately $18 million in cost avoidance annually.
  • CPD-trained investigators are more likely than their BSD-trained counterparts to meet critical casework deadlines, resulting in approximately 6,000 more children being contacted in a timely manner and having their investigation stages resolved more quickly.

The CPD model provides a new framework for training based on experiential and competency-based development that is associated with better-prepared caseworkers, lower caseworker attrition, and more timely completion of key investigations deadlines. One of the greatest strengths of the CPD model is that it provides a set of core elements – exposure to fieldwork, mentoring, and structured supervision during training – but also allows for flexibility, which is of great value for an agency like Texas CPS that works in a dynamic environment.

Over the next year, Osborne and CFRP will continue the evaluation of the CPD training model and assess the casework quality associated with the new model.


The Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) is an independent, nonpartisan research center at The University of Texas at Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs dedicated to strengthening families and enhancing public policy through rigorous research. CFRP is the largest research center at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and directed by Cynthia Osborne, Ph.D., one of the nation’s top child and family policy scholars. CFRP is the go-to resource for rigor and expertise for national and state policymakers and leaders who work with the most vulnerable children and families.


Child Protective Services Transformation: Evaluation of CPS Professional Development (R.011.0417): Full Report

For more on CFRP’s research on child welfare, click here.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Dr. Cynthia Osborne, contact: Wendy Gonzales, Child and Family Research Partnership, or 512-471-8921.

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child welfare