Staff Development and Performance Management

Performance Expectations

The initial introduction of workers to their jobs is important in setting expectations and connecting their work to the larger mission of the agency. For public child welfare caseworkers, the awesome responsibility of protecting 

children starts with careful preparation for assuming case management responsibilities.

There are various models for acclimatizing new workers across the states, but the most important 

aspect in any model is the ability of new workers to see experienced staff perform the work. 

Combinations of training and on­the­ground work are common, with the didactic classroom training of 

the past giving way to competency­based training and experiential learning curricula.

Workers should not assume case management responsibility without careful oversight by seasoned 

supervisors. Often, training units provide both supervisory support as well as a peer environment 

that encourages safe exploration of the caseworker role.

Mentoring, training and supporting workers is the agency’s task in creating a viable workforce. 

Much of that work is facilitated by careful selection of workers in the first instance, and then 

providing training and mentoring.  There are several overarching themes that pervade job 

expectation and function, and agencies must make sure that elements of these are infused into the 

fabric of training and workforce development.


Job Descriptions

Written job descriptions are indispensable performance management tools for recruitment and 

performance expectations. They are essential for making it clear to job applicants what the 

position entails and for setting measurable expectations for new employees.  Well constructed job 

descriptions match skills, abilities and education to the tasks the position requires and should be 

written and reviewed with staff members in the early stages of their employment and during 

performance appraisal processes.


Disparities and Disproportionality

Public child welfare is required to establish policies and procedures and make available the tools 

that workers need in order to work successfully with all the families they serve. These include 

translation services, affirmative minority hiring practices and competent supervision, among 

others. The key to offering quality services is that the workforce be aware of, trained to 

understand and provide equitable treatment and services to all populations that its workers will 



Trauma-­Informed Practice

Trauma is a topic of particular concern for public workers as so many of the children and families 

they work with are, in fact, victims of or witnesses to significant violence. Additionally, the 

public agency workforce is highly susceptible to the negative effects of secondary trauma from 

repeated exposure to these cases and the stress of the work they are asked to do.


Over time, repeated trauma will have a significant impact on workers. The most damaging part of 

secondary trauma is its corrosive impact on the worker’s sense of competence, trust, worth and 

hope. Agencies must be sensitive to this issue and provide supportive services that workers can 

access confidentially and without concern that their competency or ability to continue to work will 

be called into question. On the other hand, agencies should be prepared to counsel those who may 

not be suitable for the work into other employment.


Evidence­Informed Practice

The focus of public agency work over the last decade has been to sharpen its practice and to use 

the power of research to guide development of child welfare work and to underscore that workers 

need to look for empirical evidence of their impact on clients and communities. Workers at every 

level of the public child welfare agency must develop an appreciation of the value of using 

evidence to guide and improve services to children and families.


Critical Thinking

The higher­level information that workers now receive through evidence­informed practice and 

research­based assessments makes it more important than ever that the workforce be taught to 

challenge and connect what the worker knows from experience to the research available to guide 

their practice.


Public child welfare practice requires the use of critical thinking techniques at all levels of the 

agency to gather and evaluate information regarding the children and families served in order to 

make competent decisions regarding safety and effective intervention. Critical thinking is also 

employed in the continual assessment of the impact of interventions on the family in order to 

enable appropriate adjustment.

Supervisors and managers must be able to facilitate critical thinking while at the same time use 

systemic thinking that aligns

existing case practice with the agency’s predominant philosophical approach, practice model and 

organizational priorities. Management commitment to the development of critical thinking skills among both workers and

supervisors must be evidenced by willingness to direct valuable resources of time and funding to the mastery of this skill.


Performance Appraisals

Given clear role definitions and behavioral expectations, there are many structures and supports 

that need to be in place in order to maximize the performance of the child welfare workforce. 

Timely feedback that clearly states actual performance compared to expected or desired performance 

is important for changing behavior and improving practice and must be ongoing. Feedback can come 

from peers, from clients, from data systems and from supervisors. Staff must be held accountable 

for adherence to job expectation, ethics and operating tenets of the practice model.

Mechanisms need to be in place to support both formal and informal constructive and contextual 

feedback to workers. These discussions should include the chance for workers to discuss their 

accomplishments. Self­correction becomes a powerful tool for practice improvement.  Discussions 

should periodically include formal written performance appraisals that are based on written job 

descriptions and clear behavioral expectations.

Performance appraisals should include or be attached to developmental plans for continuous 

improvement.  Employees should be involved in their own development. This should be an 

individualized, proactive skill enhancement opportunity agreed upon by the worker and supervisor 

that aligns with agency resources and leads to creating a well­prepared workforce invested in 

achieving the agency mission.

Staff needs should be clearly assessed, written down and used as the point of access to on­going 

skill development. Training should be available to address worker deficiencies identified in this 

process as well as opportunity for individual capacity building.


Staff Development

There are three types of staff development plans that can flow from performance appraisals. These 

are: 1) remedial plans to enable the employee to meet job expectations; 2) development plans for 

continuous improvement; and 3) developmental plans to build agency capacity and the employee career 


All three are based on supervisory feedback, jointly agreed upon and directed to focus on the 

worker’s needs and interests as well as building the agency’s capacity to achieve its mission. All 

developmental plans should challenge the worker to reach for higher levels of performance whether 

in their current job or by taking on a new endeavor. A good staff development process improves 

worker morale, improves retention rates and most importantly, improves service delivery to 

families. Resources must be available to keep worker competency at the level needed to perform the 

duties required of the agency.

Remedial plans for workers who do not meet job expectations should derive from formal performance 

appraisals and are developed between the supervisor and the employee. When an employee is found 

lacking, plans are formulated around providing the employee with the tools to bring their skills up 

to the level expected by the agency. Such remedial plans require additional supervisory oversight 

of a worker’s performance.


Example: A worker has a workload established through a valid, reliable workload estimation 

technique that is equitable to those managed by other staff in the same role at the same level. 

However, he/she is unable to complete the necessary paperwork. This worker may benefit from writing 

or time management training to enhance language or organizational skills. Whether either or both 

would be helpful should be mutually determined by the worker and the supervisor.


It must be emphasized that remedial plans are not disciplinary in nature but are directly tied to 

enhancing the worker’s performance. Employees should be notified when actions other than remedial 

are contemplated. Workers who are unable to meet expectations may be counseled into other jobs 

within the agency or other employment. However, employees who are unable or unwilling to meet job 

expectation should be removed from the workforce.


Developmental plan with workers that meet job expectations should clearly identify what is needed 

to maintain current functioning and identify areas for development that enable the employee to 

reach a high level of performance in the current job or qualify for a career track for promotional 

opportunity that will meet agency needs.


Developmental plan with workers that exceed job expectations should clearly identify what is needed 

to continue to excel in the current job, take the current job to another level, qualify for 

promotion and what areas for professional growth will meet agency needs. Agencies must look 

critically at how they manage their own talent to ensure the retention and development of the most 

talented workers.  These plans may include:


Career Ladders: Staff Development and Human Resources must work together to create accessible 

career ladders. Staff need to see the opportunity to grow in the agency. There must be a formal 

process to enable staff to gain experience for higher­level opportunities that fit the agency’s 

need for succession planning and the individual’s need to take pride in their profession and 

develop advanced skills. Ideally, there should be multiple paths available to develop 

professionally and achieve status and rewards for becoming an excellent or specialized 

practitioner, a trainer or field coach, as well as ways to enter supervisory jobs, management, 

information technology, research and others areas.

Public child welfare work requires that fully qualified workers be promoted based on performance 

and skill.  Many states have civil service systems that reward longevity, but that should not be an impediment to the 

advancement of qualified staff.

Successful engagement of unions and other worker representatives is both possible and highly 

constructive in development of promotion policies.

Succession Planning: This is the agency process to identify talented staff and prepare them to fill 

critical roles when jobs become vacant. Such planning is essential and can be used by agencies to 

insulate themselves from the negative effects of cyclical or unexpected changes in leadership at 

all levels across the agency. Succession plans are also excellent vehicles for grooming staff to 

perform higher­level tasks and provide a means for continuity when change occurs.


Training and individualized development plans are required for the development of staff at all 



Research demonstrates that the success and organizational tenure of the worker is to a great degree 

determined by the level and quality of supervision received. This must be widely considered when 

assessing the performance of supervisors. Although, organizationally, supervisors are not 

full­fledged members of the management team, supervisors should be included in decision­ making 

processes and serve as the disseminators of management policy and information. Supervisors need 

coaching or mentoring designed to ensure their full participation in the achievement of 

organizational goals.


Supervisors and managers must also tend to their own professional growth in order to cultivate a 

cadre of future agency leaders. Attention and funding must be devoted to the development and 

training of supervisors and managers.  Every supervisor should be receiving regular supervision or 

consultation from an agency administrator or manager, a peer or a group of peers. This process may 

connect newer supervisors to more experienced mentors or coaches.


The organization should require developmental plans for all supervisors. Management must show 

support of these plans by actively participating in structured learning events, lending their 

expertise to development of desired competencies, and devising strategies to “free” supervisors to 

participate in learning activities despite caseload/workload management  challenges.

Supervisors’ developmental plans should include:


  • Administrative and managerial aspects of supervision of a work unit, including monitoring the functioning of the organizational unit, the assignment and management of workload and guiding the work of the supervisees.
  • Evaluation and management of staff performance, including ongoing assessment of staff skills and fulfillment of work responsibilities, formal performance appraisal, developing and monitoring corrective action plans, and progressive discipline methods that are consistent with agency regulations. Human Resources should provide supervisory tools for use in this process to promote consistency across work units.
  • Leadership skills such as aligning front­line practice with organizational goals and priorities, inspiring staff to do their best work and to recognize their role in the greater agency, serve a communication function. Community leadership skills are also required as the supervisor serves as a representative of the agency, its policies and its philosophy within their locality.  Public child welfare agencies are typically in a constant state of change, so supervisors must have skills in leading teams through change.  Supervisors should be considered ambassadors, advocates and advisors to front­line staff and to the community, as these functions relate to the mission and purpose of the agency.  For that reason, their role in the agency planning and implementation of priority projects is essential.
  • Clinical supervision that is related to the professional development of front­line workers as well as the promotion of competent practice with families. Skills associated with this role involve the promotion of self­reflective practice and critical thinking and the interpretation of the agency’s practice model with individual families.  Supervisors should receive  ongoing clinical training.
  • Training in the value and management of diversity in the workforce, as well as promoting culturally­sensitive practice. This includes strategies for avoiding racial disproportionality and other issues appropriate to the specific geographic region.
  • Organizational management skills. The supervisor role is a critical link between the front­line and the administration.System thinking is required to connect practice to organizational priorities and the elements of strategic planning.




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