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About the Human Services Workforce Initiative

Vulnerable children and families frequently have only one point of contact with the systems designed to assist them – the frontline worker. These workers, and the systems which they represent, have the potential to improve the lives of, and outcomes for, the low and moderate-income children and families they serve. Yet mounting evidence suggests that the frontline workforce of key human services, including child welfare, juvenile justice, child care, youth development and employment services, is severely compromised in its ability to effectively serve children and families. These workers often see themselves as overworked and undervalued. They often lack access to much-needed training, supports and services, and their frustration leads to burnout and turnover. In some cases compensation for frontline workers is insufficient and falls short of wages and benefits paid to other, similarly educated professionals.

The premise of the Human Services Workforce Initiative (HSWI) is that human services matter. Delivered well, they can, and do, positively impact the lives of vulnerable children and families. HSWI recognizes that there is a direct correlation between the quality of the frontline worker and the effectiveness of services they deliver to children and families. If workers are well-trained and supported, have access to the resources that they need, possess a reasonable workload and are valued by their employers, it follows that they will be able to effectively perform their jobs. If, however, they are as vulnerable as the children and families that they serve, they will be ineffective in improving outcomes for children and families. Simply put, we cannot succeed at producing better outcomes for children and families without aggressively addressing the workforce that serves them.

How can the human services recruit, develop and retain a quality workforce? How can the chasm between what human services workers are asked to do and how they are equipped for the task be reduced? And how can systemic reform efforts assure that frontline workers have the knowledge and skills to successfully perform their jobs in ways prescribed by policy solutions or the implementation of best practices?

These questions were central to the mission of HSWI. In 2005, the Cornerstone Consulting Group assumed leadership of the initiative from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which created and funded the initiative with the twin goals of increasing awareness of the crisis in this workforce and developing strategies to address the crisis. Cornerstone’s focus on health and human service solutions, organizational development and community revitalization, coupled with their partnership with a broad range of public and private organizations to develop solutions, provided the initiative with momentum and focus.

Cornerstone created Cornerstones for Kids, a not for profit organization formed in 2004 to house and manage the Human Services Workforce Initiative. C4K’s mission is to improve the lives and circumstances of vulnerable children. As under AECF leadership, HSWI continues to define the “Human Services Workforce” as the frontline staff in child welfare, juvenile justice, child care, youth development, and employment services.

Yet C4K recognized these as five discrete fields with five vastly different workforces. Each workforce is governed by separate laws and regulations, funded separately and administered by different organizations. Each field is at a different point in terms of understanding the condition of its workforce, the visibility of the issues which plague it, and consensus on strategies for improvement. And, while there are commonalities shared across the five fields, solutions to the crises in each field will likely be found within that field.

HSWI recognizes that there have been, and continue to be, many efforts to identify the problems within these workforces and propose policy solutions. A critical element of the initiative was its partnership with a number of grantees within these five fields who are engaged in problem identification, creation of best practices, and solution development.

HSWI operated on three overlapping strategic paths:

  1. Collecting and Disseminating Data – Increasing awareness of, and providing better information about, the state of each of the five human services workforces.
  2. Identifying and Increasing Awareness of Best Practices – Disseminating information on strategies and approaches that are working in each field.
  3. Influencing Policy – Identifying the underlying systemic barriers which hamper the ability to recruit and retain a qualified, motivated workforce in each of these fields and advocating for policy solutions designed to improve the workforce.

HSWI recognizes that, at the end of the day, well-written policies, creative program designs and powerful research findings will add up to very little if the frontline workers engaged in working with children and families are inexperienced, poorly prepared and supported, overworked or undervalued.

Throughout the life of the project, C4K worked to identify and highlight best practices and potential policy solutions which can positively impact the state of these workforces and their ability to improve outcomes for the children and families they serve.

Cornerstones for Kids (C4K) ended its work on behalf of the AECF Human Services Workforce Initiative, Spring 2010.

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