Recruiting and Retaining Black Child Welfare Workers

Retaining quality child protection workers in the Minnesota workforce has been a concern for many years. While there are many reasons that people leave, we know that BIPOC workers (black, indigenous, and other people of color) still encounter bias and isolation in the workplace. Sometimes supervisors are aware of this dynamic, but are reluctant to get involved. As we acknowledge Black History Month, we have asked Shay Marlowe, one of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Specialists for the Training Academy, to share ways to help recruit and retain Black child welfare workers, whose experiences can help agencies when working with families and children of color. 

What actions can Child Welfare agencies take to hire more diverse people?

Employers need to be transparent and honest about who they see filling the role and what qualities and skills they are looking for. For example, do you want more of a leader or are you prioritizing someone who can mesh well with the culture of your team. Know that certain skill sets can be represented in various cultures and races, beyond stereotypes. With that said, we hope individuals are intentionally going into certain communities and into certain cultures looking for skills in diverse communities.

How can a child welfare agency work to make their office a safe place for all employees?

Employees need to know that they are in a psychologically safe place to work and that they can be their authentic selves. Diverse employees should be able to give honest feedback without fear of retaliation or consequence. Additionally, employees thrive with freedom of creativity and expression which allows them to be heard. This also includes how they dress, how they wear their hair, piercings, etc.

How can child welfare agencies work to improve retention?

  • Be intentional to reach out to groups and individuals while spending actual time to get to know them. It’s imperative to make applicants feel welcomed, but also involved. Beyond acknowledging employees, having regular check-ins by inviting them into a safe space to ask for feedback and thoughts. Employers should be transparent about losing staff and about utilizing feedback to improve retention.
  • When connecting with a social worker or child welfare worker who is or identifies as Black, know that there are multiple levels and facets to it; there are multiple intersectionalities. As a Black employee (of any institution), social worker, etc., it is important to feel seen, valued, and heard on a regular basis.
  • Prioritize Black staff members having dialogue with other Black colleagues. Together they can share concerns or common goals and issues with each other as well as with non-Black colleagues or leadership. Black staff should have routine opportunities to be represented in different work groups as well.
  • Last, but not least, create plans around how to effectively serve or support Black families. It's important that we utilize Black staff who are serving families and who represent those communities so they can share thoughts of what might work, even if they are not the ones assigned to manage a particular case.

What are examples of how a supervisor could have transparent communication to support Black staff?

Supervisors are part of the solution, but they're not all of it. Supervisors should be advocates. They should be allies for staff. Being able to be honest and authentic with staff at all levels helps build connections and put staff at ease. Sometimes, reflective action and behavior can encourage staff to show their humanity and vulnerability.

Supervisors should also be willing to confront their own biases as well. Unconscious or conscious bias can overtake the way you treat and interact with Black people. Every individual is different and supervisors should aim to get to know each employee at a deeper level than just race. Supervisors might find more benefit in having those types of conversations individually and privately.

Example questions for supervisors to check in with their staff:

  • How do they feel connected to their work?
  • How do they feel connected to the team, how they feel connected to their leader or manager, and what can be improved to make them feel more connected and invested? 
  • Would they like to be a part of more meetings or less meetings? Would they like to help lead a meeting? 
  • Are there things they have noticed that maybe could add more culture and connection to the environment and/or team that they are a part of? 
  • Can I celebrate anything that has taken place in the last week or so that I might have missed?
  • Were they able to close a case successfully? Let's celebrate their wins. Let's talk about losses. Let's talk about the challenges. 
  • How can I help my staff? What resources do they need? Are they having a challenging case that could use additional support? How as a supervisor can I help? 
  • Can I help them get additional training or support to do professional development?

More about Shay Marlowe, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Specialist for the Minnesota Child Welfare Training Academy. Shay was in Talent Acquisition and Human Resources for roughly 10 years, including the nonprofit and private sectors. His past work has included helping unemployed fathers find employment and fulfill their career goals. Shay has also volunteered to help high school and college students with their resumes and interviews. Hiring and recruiting diverse employees for short term and long term positions is a strength of Shay’s. This includes being a diversity recruiter for State Government, where he has focused on hiring and retaining people of color, women, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. Shay is also the chair for the Men of African Heritage Employee Resource Group within the Minnesota Department of Human Services. One of the group’s top objectives is to recruit and retain men of color, or who have affiliation with the continent of Africa.