Crain’s Commentary: Nonprofit child welfare agencies facing critical labor shortage

This guest voice was published in Crain’s Detroit Business on January 19, 2021.

Essential family services in Michigan like adoption and juvenile justice facilities are facing a critical labor shortage.

While the labor shortage has been a chronic problem for Michigan’s nonprofit, accredited child welfare agencies, COVID-19 has made it much worse.

As a member of the Association of Accredited Child Welfare Agencies, I speak from experience when I tell you we are constantly seeking to hire qualified workers.

Unfortunately, a major roadblock to filling our open positions is the fact the state dictates and caps the cost of care in terms of reimbursement for direct care services.

A similar cap doesn’t exist for state-run facilities, which means while we can afford to start hiring at $10-$12 an hour, the state of Michigan hires workers with similar qualifications for its state-run facilities starting at $18-20 an hour.

Nonprofit, accredited child welfare agencies are also competing for hourly workers with the likes of Amazon, which is paying $15-$17.50 an hour in Michigan, or at Meijer, which is offering $13-$15 an hour, according to a recent search on Indeed.com.

This creates a major competitive disadvantage with state facilities or even fast-food chains, which pay workers $10-13 an hour, depending on location.

Employees at non\profit, accredited child welfare agencies work around the clock and are responsible for the care of children with a wide range of needs. Working in our industry allows people to make a real difference in the lives of children and families.

And our highly trained front-line workers play a critical role supporting Michigan families, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to meet the growing needs of Michigan’s children and families, policymakers need to explore fairness in funding to help us deal with this critical labor shortage.

Research shows that investing in Michigan’s nonprofit, accredited child welfare agencies on the front end will pay dividends for Michigan’s children, families and taxpayers.

Nonprofit, accredited child welfare agencies are an essential part of Michigan’s child welfare system from providing youth mental health services to bringing families together through adoptions.

Through our national accreditation status, we meet the highest standards for safety and positive outcomes and our deep experience in Michigan gives us expertise regarding the needs of children and families.

Fairness in funding would better equip our agencies looking to hire Michigan workers and provide fair pay for critical work.

In the meantime, Michigan residents looking to work with a non-profit, accredited child welfare agency should visit the AACFA website where there is a link to available jobs at our member organizations.

Judith Fischer Wollack is president of the Association of Accredited Child and Family Agencies and CEO of Wolverine Human Services.

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