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Social Workers

Written by Dr. Sarah Anderson
Published on March 22, 2023
Research Highlights

Education requirements, compensation, and caseloads for social workers contribute to high turnover.

Median pay for social workers in Missouri is lower than any of the surrounding states in the region.

Manageable caseloads, low supervisor-staff ratio, adequate training, opportunity for career growth, and increased pay can decrease social worker turnover.

Missouri has a social worker shortage.

Social workers serve in fields such as healthcare, education, government, non-profits, and private practice (GWU 2018).

  • Based on the interaction of the labor force, economy, demand and employment, there is 9% expected growth in this field from 2021-2031 (US BLS 2022).

There are many unfilled state social worker positions in MO (MO Governor 2023; MO DSS 2023).

  • In 2016, there were between 750 and 1,680 unfilled social work jobs in MO (HRSA 2018).
  • State human services staffing has decreased for mental health (3%), social services (16%), and corrections (18%) since 2012 (Figure 1; MO OA 2021).

Social workers in MO have a bachelor’s degree and a license, which must be renewed every 2 years. Clinical social work requires a master’s degree (Social Work Licensure).


The mean yearly salary of a MO social worker ranges from $41k - $51k, depending on the field they enter (US BLS 2021).

  • Nationally, the mean educational debt among MSW graduates was $66k. About two thirds receive financial aid from scholarships and their family (GWU 2020).

Among the four categories of social workers measured by the BLS (healthcare, mental health and substance abuse, child, family and school, and all other), social workers in MO earn less in at least one of these categories compared to surrounding states (BLS 2021).

Workforce Barriers

One survey of MSW alumni found that 44% of respondents left the field or were planning on leaving the field due to low pay, caretaking responsibilities, and feeling that their job was not effective after 7-10 years in the workforce (Wermeling 2013).

  • Across sectors, lack of childcare is a barrier to women participating in the workforce (MOST 2022).

Child welfare case managers and child protective investigators who left within 6 months of their start date were more likely to report higher caseloads and that their role was not consistent with the training they received compared to workers who stayed (Wilke 2019).


States are employing recruitment and retention policies for social workers.


The University of Missouri Schools of Social Work in Columbia and St. Louis offer the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program.

  • The U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration funds the program (2021-2025) with the goal of increasing workforce supply and quality of behavioral health professionals (HRSA n.d.).

120 students, in total, over the 4-year period can participate in this program and each student receives $10k.

  • Students must intern at an organization that provides behavioral and physical healthcare.
  • Students are encouraged to go to organ-izations focuses on vulnerable, high need, or rural communities and children (MU n.d.).

In February 2023, Governor Parson signed HB 14, which raises the salaries of all state employees by 8.7%. The bill also includes a $2 raise for staff who work at out-of-home settings with children, such as in group homes, emergency shelters, etc. These raises will take place between February – June 2023 (MO Governor 2023).

Other States

Peer and supervisory support, lower caseloads, growth in the workplace and perceived adequate compensation increase social worker and caseworker retention (Hombrados-Mendieta 2013; Chen 2012; Chenot 2009; Smith 2005).

In NJ, the Department of Children and Families was an agency under the Department of Human Services until 2006. Since the creation of the department, turnover has been between 6%-10% (national average 30%; Casey 2022; NJ DCF 2017; NY Times 2006).

In 2014, the TX Department of Family and Protective Services enacted "CPS Transform-ation," an external assessment by the Sunset Advisory Commission and Stephen Group (TX DFPS 2014). The policies implemented from the assessments resulted in a 27.5% decrease in staff turnover in 2016 (Casey 2018).

Shared approaches in both the NJ and TX programs include:

  • Active recruitment and low vacancy rates
  • Improved onboarding process
  • Opportunities for professional growth
  • Lower caseloads
  • Supervisor and peer-to-peer support
  • Increased salary
  • Worker safety protocols
  • Celebration of staff achievements

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm (visited March 03, 2023). 

Casey Family Program. (2018, May 14). How did Texas decrease caseworker turnover and stabilize its workforce? Retrieved from Casey family programs questions from the field: https://www.casey.org/texas-turnover-reduction/ 

Casey Family Programs. (2022, February 7). How does New Jersey maintain a stable child welfare workforce? Retrieved from Casey family programs questions fromt he field: https://www.casey.org/new-jersey-staff-turnover/ 

Chen, Y. Y., Park, J., & Park, A. (2012). Existence, relatedness, or growth? Examining turnover intention of public child welfare caseworkers from a human needs approach. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(10), 2088-2093. 

Chenot D, Benton AD, Kim H. The influence of supervisor support, peer support, and Organizational culture among early career social workers in Child Welfare Services. Child Welfare. 2009;88(5):129-47. PMID: 20187566. 

Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity The George Washington University. (2020, August). Findings from Three Years of Surveys of New Social Workers. Retrieved from National Association of Social Workers: https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=1_j2EXVNspY%3d&portalid=0 

George Washington University Health Workforce Institute. (2018). Indicators of Demand for Recent Master's of Social Work Graduates: Finding from the 2018 Survey of Socail Work Graduates. Retrieved from National Association of Social Workers: https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=MVQxaIT_RvA%3d&portalid=0 

Health Resources & Services Administration. (2021). Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program for Professionals. Retrieved from Health Resources & Services Administration Find Grant Funding: https://www.hrsa.gov/grants/find-funding/HRSA-21-089 

Hombrados-Mendieta, I., & Cosano-Rivas, F. (2013). Burnout, workplace support, job satisfaction and life satisfaction among social workers in Spain: A structural equation model. International Social Work, 56(2), 228–246. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020872811421620 

Jones, R. L. (2006, March 19). Insiders Say Corzine Plans New Unit for Child Welfare. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/19/nyregion/insiders-say-corzine-plans-new-unit-for-child-welfare.html 

Missouri Deparment of Social Services. (2023). Career Opportunities. Retrieved from Missouri Department of Social Services: https://dss.mo.gov/hrc/jobs/ 

Missouri Office of Administration. (2022, January 21). Annual Comprehensive Financial Report-Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2021. Retrieved from Office of Administration Division of Accounting: https://acct.oa.mo.gov/media/report/annual-comprehensive-financial-report-fiscal-year-ended-june-30-2021 

New Jersey Department of Children and Families and Rutgers School of Social Work. (2017). New Jersey Department of Children and Families Workforce Report 2016-2017 updates. Retrieved from New Jersey Department of Children and Families: https://www.nj.gov/dcf/childdata/exitplan/NJ.DCF.Workforce.Report-FY17.pdf 

Office of Governor Mike Parson. (2023, February 23). Governor Parson Signs HB14, Historic Pay Riases for All State Team Members into Law. Retrieved from Missouri Governor Press Releases: https://governor.mo.gov/press-releases/archive/governor-parson-signs-hb-14-historic-pay-raises-all-state-team-members-law 

Social Work Licensure. (2023). Social Work Licensure in Missouri. Retrieved from SocialWorkLicensure.org: https://socialworklicensure.org/state/social-work-licensure-missouri/#:~:text=To%20become%20a%20licensed%20social%20worker%20in%20Missouri%2C,to%20become%20a%20licensed%20master%20social%20worker%20%28LMSW%29. 

Smith, B. D. (2005). Job retention in child welfare: Effects of perceived organizational support, supervisor support, and intrinsic job value. Children and Youth Services Review, 27(2), 153-169. 

Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. (2014, July 18). Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Council Meeting. Retrieved from Texas Department of Family and Protective Services : https://view.officeapps.live.com/op/view.aspx?src=https%3A%2F%2Fdfps.texas.gov%2FAbout_DFPS%2FPublic_Meetings%2FCouncil%2F2014%2F2014-07-18-minutes.doc&wdOrigin=BROWSELINK 

U.S. Census Bureau. (2018). American Community Survey Detailed Census Occupation by Sex and Race/Ethnicity for Residence Geography. Retrieved from United States Census Bureau: https://data.census.gov/table?q=Counselors,+social+workers,+and+other+community+and+social+service+specialists 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018, September). State Level Projections of Supply and Demand for Behavioral Health Occupations: 2016-2030. Retrieved from HRSA Health Workforce: https://bhw.hrsa.gov/sites/default/files/bureau-health-workforce/data-research/state-level-estimates-report-2018.pdf 

University of Missouri. (n.d.). School of Social Work Behavioral health workforce education and training for professionals program. Retrieved from University of Missouri School of Health Professions: https://healthprofessions.missouri.edu/social-work/field-education/behavioral-health-workforce-education-and-training-for-professionals-program/ 

Wermeling, L. (2013). Why Social Workers Leave the Profession: Understanding the Profession and Workforce. Administration in Social Work, 37(4), 329–339. doi:10.1080/03643107.2012.693057 

Wilke DJ, Rakes S, Randolph KA. Predictors of Early Departure among Recently Hired Child Welfare Workers. Soc Work. 2019 Jul 2;64(3):188-197. doi: 10.1093/sw/swz020. PMID: 31190066. 

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