Date of this Version
Originally Published in Protecting Children, Volume 17 / Number 3, in press
Several years ago we conducted an informal telephone survey of 53 child protective services (CPS) agencies, both state and county administered, to obtain a broad snapshot of what methods agencies across the country were using to select new CPS staff. Our goal was to learn what measures or indicators were included in these hiring decisions, with the hope of collaborating across agency lines to develop new approaches. Our results surprised us: Many jurisdictions invested minimally in the recruitment and selection of new CPS staff, yet they clearly expected new CPS workers to achieve high performance after some (varying) amounts of initial training. With rare exception (Bernotavicz & Locke, 2000), we have seen little evidence of significant change in the situation to present.
Given the complexity of the work and the high-stake decisions required of child protection workers on a daily basis, this lack of attention to recruitment, selection, and placement of new staff is puzzling. It seems at odds with what has become the norm for other jobs involving public welfare (e.g., police, firefighters). For example, a typical municipal police officer selection process might include a situational interview, physical agility test, assessment of knowledge through a written test, and, for finalists, psychological screening. After provisional hire, the new recruit often must attend a rigorous training program, including frequent written and performance testing, to demonstrate required levels of knowledge and skill. All of this occurs before the officer assumes actual work assignments. We believe that the stakes involved in child protection warrant a similar level of rigor in the selection and training of new staff.