Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Social Work

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Problem: Child welfare (CW) caseworkers perform a crucial role in our society--ensuring the safety, permanency, and well-being of one of our most vulnerable populations, victims of child maltreatment. Yet, since its inception in the early 20th century, CW, including foster care services, has been plagued by high turnover rates that have been associated with delayed permanency and recurrent maltreatment. This dissertation aimed to develop a dynamic hypothesis about the system structure that produces turnover in foster care services, to create a formal system dynamics simulation model representing the problem, to develop an intervention to reduce the problem, and to test it for effectiveness and sustainability. Methods: The study was a single case study using mixed-methods including semi-structured interviews and group model building workshops with stakeholders to create a qualitative systems map representing the structure that causes turnover. The qualitative map was re-specified as a formal system dynamics simulation model. Computer simulation using Vensim PLE tested whether the model was able to produce behavior that matched historical trends and to determine how the system may be restructured to reduce turnover. Results: Qualitative and quantitative results both indicated that turnover operates as a vicious cycle with detrimental effect on an agency’s ability to build human and social capital. Findings suggested that improving supervisor case support, supervisor emotional support, and staff camaraderie, while reducing caseworker frustration, were the highest leverage interventions to reduce turnover. Conclusion: Caseworker turnover in foster care services can cause an agency to get caught in a trap that is difficult to break out of. Training programs that make supervisors aware of the importance of acknowledging caseworkers for a job well done, and those that train supervisors on team- and camaraderie-building programs, are likely to improve caseworker turnover at a low cost.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Patricia Kohl

Committee Members

Peter Hovmand, Melissa Jonson-Reid, Patrick Fowler, Douglas Luke,


Permanent URL:

Included in

Social Work Commons