CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s high turnover rate among Child Protective Services workers is a problem that many states experience, according to a presentation Tuesday to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children and Families.

Sharing the information was Nina Williams-Mbengue, senior fellow with the National Conference of State Legislatures, who talked about how other states are trying to deal with the problem.

The average length of a child welfare worker’s employment is less than two years, and only 75% of child welfare positions are regularly filled. While the turnover rate for all jobs is just 3.5%, the average for a child welfare worker is 21%, though in some states it’s as high as 65%, she said.

Her presentation came just hours before an audit of the Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Children and Families was released, saying the bureau is only meeting mandated abuse and neglect investigation time frames half of the time. Cited as one reason for that was high staff turnover rates.

According to the BCF audit, West Virginia had a 27% turnover rate this year.

Williams-Mbengue said along with worse outcomes for the children and families served, the turnover rates come with a high price tag. A 2013 study commissioned by Texas found the cost to states to replace workers is about $54,000.

CPS workers cite low pay, risk of violence, staff shortages and high caseloads as some of the reasons for leaving the system.

“There’s been a lot of attention recently on CPS workers’ secondary post-traumatic stress,” Williams-Mbengue said. “Colorado is one state that is addressing this with legislative support. Case workers that hear about firsthand trauma as they work with children and families may experience PTSD symptoms. This may result in them reexperiencing personal trauma in their own lives or they may exhibit avoidance behaviors in other cases.”

High turnover creates a cycle of stress on the system that results in burnout of other workers, she said.

In 2017, Colorado started a resiliency task force. Nearly all the CPS workers in the state had reported being threatened on the job and said they experience short- or long-term anxiety and physiological impact of their job. They all said the greatest support system they had was each other.

The task force implemented training at all levels to mitigate trauma, along with other measures like caseload reviews and post-crisis debriefings.

In Texas in 2017, the state reduced the case worker turnover rate by 27.5% in one year. The state drove down caseloads by leveraging the Office of Data Analytics to evaluate retention efforts, handle employee complaints, predict workforce shortages and identify areas with high turnovers. Texas also worked to improve workplace culture, more support staff and implemented self-care measures for frontline staff.

During the September interim meeting of the Joint Health Committee, a DHHR representative said the department is working on implementing some of these strategies, including more peer supports like a mentoring program and attempting to alleviate the heavy caseloads by increasing crisis team support staff.

The audit released Tuesday recommended analyzing data like what was done in Texas to better understand staffing issues.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.