One-in-four Ohio caseworkers left his or her position in 2017, and turnover is even higher in some counties.
Sara Wright, children's services administrator for the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services, says that assessing abuse and neglect is taxing work, and can quickly lead to burnout.
"It's an emotional exhaustion," she states. "They have this secondary trauma from seeing the things that they see every day that, really, school didn't prepare them for because what we are seeing is very difficult things."
In a 2019 study, half of Ohio caseworkers met the threshold for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gov. Mike DeWine recently invested $1 million in an emergency response fund to help child welfare agencies with staffing shortages, and the caseload challenges caused by the drug epidemic.
Wright says it's becoming increasingly difficult for agencies to find qualified individuals, especially in rural areas, who are willing to work long hours while putting their own safety at risk.
She adds that at the same time, child welfare is a highly rewarding field that makes a real difference in people's lives.
"We have a privilege and an honor to be able to be involved with a family at that moment," she states. "They let you in. They tell you about the things that they're struggling with. They partner with you to try to overcome those. People love their children and we help make those lives better. That's what keeps us going."
Wright notes that child welfare workers come from varying backgrounds, and many are passionate about helping families in crisis.
"We are really the experts in child protection and that assessment of abuse and neglect," she points out. "But not all of our employees are social workers. Some have a degree in criminal justice. Some may have a degree in psychology, sociology, other types of fields."
For a long time, Ohio ranked last among states for child welfare funding. Since taking office, DeWine has prioritized investments in the system, including an additional $220 million in funding in the state's biennium budget.