Structure, culture, capacity and productivity are interrelated. When one is impacted, the others
may be affected. These elements work together to enhance or impede the agency’s ability to achieve
its mission. Agency leadership and workforce planners must continuously assess the agency to
determine how the agency structure and culture impacts workforce capacity. Assessments of all these
elements must be conducted both within and across workforce titles/units. Questions to address
In child welfare, client needs can be complex. Boundaries among different departments and services
need to be porous. Clients might benefit from multiple services being delivered from a single point of entry. A
wellimplemented practice model will balance the tension between agency processes and procedures
and be responsive to client needs.
Agency structures are generally described on a continuum from hierarchical (rule bound with
vertical lines of authority) to flat (high levels of autonomy with horizontal professional decision
making). A table of organization reflects the levels and lines of authority: how people report for
work, how they are supervised and the ratio of supervisors to employees. The structure of the
agency is set through definitions of roles, levels, departments, polices and procedures and the use
of crossdepartmental work teams.
Agency structure generally defines whether power is centralized or shared. It determines how
decisions are made at each level and how roles and responsibilities are defined. In addition, it
determines where the authority lies to formalize external relationships with community partners
and how partners are defined. Each child welfare agency faces its own political, legal and service
environments and must adapt its structure accordingly.
Example: In child welfare agencies, direct line program staff frequently may not report in person
to the office each day but go directly to appointments in the clients' homes or community offices.
This type of operation requires more autonomy and professional accountability. In addition, it
is essential that clear boundaries regarding decisionmaking authority exist and that there are
clear and open channels of communication and consultation. A child welfare worker providing in
home services and making a monitoring home visit may find circumstances changed. Faced with the
need to secure child safety, the worker would need immediate access to supervisory
consultation for decisionmaking as well as resources to strengthen parental capacity and preserve the family.
Culture is the observable way work gets done within an organization. It is the actions and
interrelationships driven by the underlying beliefs that affect the workforce ability to perform. Culture shapes the way staff
understand what management expects of them and determines how organizational changes are made.
The agency culture must respect and value staff in their peer, supervisory and administrative
relationships, in the same way it expects staff to treat children, youth and families.
Whether the agency culture is open and willing to change or closed and defensive in nature can be
assessed by looking at how:
Example: the negative attention from the media and government oversight bodies that public child welfare systems receive when interventions are unsuccessful in keeping children safe often leads to a defensive organizational culture—
one devoted to protecting itself against public and political criticism and punitive legal action.
Climate is the manifestation of culture in the hearts and minds of workers, individually and in
small units. It is a function of many
factors including salaries and benefits, supervision, training, support, safety, opportunities to
move up a career ladder, esteem and worklife balance.
Agency culture has a significant impact on climate. The way decisions and policies are made and
communicated permeates the workplace and affects staff morale. Morale, in turn, can impact the
quality of services delivered. Conversely, culture can mediate and change climate over time.
Example: Internal professional development can be promoted in an agency that traditionally looked
externally for higher level staff.
Climate is best measured through perceptual surveys, focus groups and exit interviews that explore
workers’ perceptions of the conditions under which they work and the basis upon which they make
judgments about the job and working conditions.
Examples of these can be found in research of Charles Glisson who has researched culture and
climate in child welfare and Alberta Ellett who has developed a scale for measuring organizational culture in child
Capacity refers to the tools, human and otherwise, needed to accomplish the agency’s goals and
objectives. In child welfare, capacity is an intricate equation that requires looking at the interrelationship between
program and administrative staff. The number of staff needed to handle the cases that come to an agency is
impacted by many factors including: the complexity of the service needs of the client population;
the resources available to meet the services needs of each case; the environment in which
services are delivered; the level of training and experience of the workforce; the way in which the
agency organizes services, such as whether support staff are available to assist program staff with
data input, transportation, caseworker visits and other tasks; the way supervision is provided; and
the agency’s staff performance expectations.
The children, youth and families a public child welfare agency serves come with a highly variable
set of needs, issues and levels of motivation. Ideally, the agency will discern in advance the
types and levels of service that case “types” require. For example, sexual abuse cases require more
time and attention than cases that may be directed to alternative response. The public child
welfare agency must also always be on guard to note the changing nature of its case mix and its
effects on the specializations and numbers of workers required to get the job done well.
The workforce is a fundamental but multifaceted ingredient of capacity. Some agencies rely more on
specialty workers; others rely on generic workers. Some agencies include administrative tasks as
part of its program staff’s responsibilities; others limit those tasks to staff hired solely to
perform administrative work. Staff comes with different skill sets and capabilities. They adapt and
add to their repertoire in differing degrees and at differing speeds.
The goal is to align client needs with the skills that its workforce possesses to serve the clients
well. Agencies must be clear about the work that needs to be done as well as the amount of work
that a worker can reasonably be expected to do in a period of time. That estimate is crucial to an
agency’s ability to meet the expectations of its mission and practice model, its funding agents,
stakeholders and clients as well as its workforce. Achieving equitable, manageable workloads in public child welfare is more than a mathematical distribution of cases. The agency must find a way to assign cases to workers so that the inherent amount of “work” in a particular case is taken into account. In the end, case assignments must
balance the mix of casework and noncasework time needed with time available. That formula may
change based on the mix of competencies that public child welfare agency staff possess and the
clients’ needs at any given time.
There are many ways to estimate workload. The most comprehensive way is for each agency to conduct
its own study, taking into account all factors that affect a worker’s potential to deliver services in its own unique
environment and meet the practice model standards. While preferred, this mechanism is also the most
expensive. When a child welfare agency is unable to access funding for a full study, it still needs
to get an honest appraisal of workload. There are several approaches that agencies may adopt to
achieve this. For instance, findings from field studies conducted by other agencies can be used to
adjust internal estimates of agency workforce needs. Agencies can use this kind of approach to
systematically determine workforce capacity, estimate required staffing and help ensure equitable distribution of
workload across the workforce.
Productivity is an important measure of the agency’s skill at managing for workforce
performance. High productivity is an
expectation of the public child welfare workforce. When agencies are staffed adequately based on
reasonable workload estimates, agencies must then examine their levels of productivity. To
calculate an agencywide level of productivity, one must take into account the number of workers
needed to cover the number and type of cases being served, and how the effectiveness of the
services are demonstrated. The calculation should also rest on the assumption (that is valid and
reliable) that workloads are comparable across units, departments and among individuals and
should also incorporate the clients’ perspective.
Root cause analysis of both high and low levels of productivity will position the agency to
continuously improve its workforce performance. Levels of productivity are linked to an agency’s
culture and climate, but can also be the sum of individual worker skills or deficiencies. The
agency’s expectations and demands on staff should be formally laid out in its performance
management policy which must include staff development, training, monitoring, coaching, supervision
and rewards for high productivity. While an agency must pay careful attention to staff skill
development, it also must take seriously and have methods
for dealing with chronically poor staff performance. This will be addressed in the subsequent
Performance Expectation section.