State videos show what working in health and human services is really like, aiming to reduce turnover

Last modified: 7/10/2013 11:19:06 AM
If anyone should have known what to expect from a career as a child protective services worker, it would have been Erin Dudley. Before she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and her master’s in social work, she grew up in a family that provided a home for foster children.

But three years ago, as Dudley sat down to apply for a job with the state Department of Health and Human Services, she got a bit of an eye-opener.

In 2010, department officials created videos that candidly explain the work of three different types of jobs within the social work field. The jobs can be stressful, and turnover has been high. Dudley, who has worked as an assessment worker in the department’s Nashua office for more than two years now, said that without that information, she might have ended up in the wrong position.

“I came into it with a realistic expectation of what my day would look like, rather than coming in with an ideal picture thinking because it’s social work, I’m going to save the world and everyone is going to love me,” Dudley said. “Most of the time they don’t love you initially, it’s hard to engage and you spend a lot of time working to get over that resistance.”

The department is now seeing less turnover among employees in their first 12 months on the job, and officials think the videos are helping. So now they plan to make two more this summer through Concord video company Accompany, at a cost of about $18,000. More than 75 percent of the cost will be paid through a federal grant, according to the proposal submitted to the Executive Council in May.

Job seekers are required to watch the videos before submitting applications. The videos already available online feature the work of child protective services workers, adult protective services workers and family services specialists; staff will create videos about the work of youth counselors and mental health workers this summer.

The videos are one way for the department to address high turnover in those jobs, especially by workers in the first year. By that measure, they have helped.

Among social workers in charge of determining who is eligible for services, 35 percent who left their jobs were in their first year. Two years after the department began using the videos as part of the application process, that number fell to 24 percent, said Lori Weaver, a department administrator.

Turnover of child protective services workers in the first 12 months has dropped from 15 percent to 10 percent, Weaver said.

Training each new worker for some of the positions can cost as much as $40,000 each, said Maggie Bishop, director of the Division of Children, Youth and Families. Counseling young people is “a very challenging job where you never know what’s going to happen next. It’s a high-stress job, and I’ve seen through the years people not really understanding what it means,” she said.

“This job is not real until you’re out there knocking on someone’s door, or at the Sununu Center and a child is becoming volatile, but I’ve heard from others who have seen the videos and decided it’s not for them. So showing them some of the reality of the job was good.”

It’s not all doom and gloom; workers in the videos talk about how it feels when they make a difference for clients, from a child placed in a safe home to an elderly man thanking his protective services worker for being his only visitor in the last weeks of his life.

“The business we do, it’s very important to the public,” Weaver said. “We want to make sure the people we hire are going to stay. They’re working with families and communities, and it can be very disruptive to have a caseworker come in and then after six months they leave. Any increased consistency, any chance that if I have the same caseworker, that’s going to help me whatever my involvement with the department is.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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