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Five Ways High Caseloads Hinder Social Work

Read on to learn about the various ways high caseloads negatively impact the delivery of human services.

Deciding to become a social worker positions you for a rewarding career dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of individuals and communities. When you enter the field, often after earning your Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, you may begin taking on different cases, steadily building your caseload. A caseload is the number of cases (child or family) an individual is assigned within a period of time. For a child welfare worker, the average caseload is between 24 and 31 children; however, the Child Welfare League of America recommends that caseloads not exceed 15 children per social worker.1 Why is this? Research has shown that high caseloads negatively impact the delivery of both health and human services. Below, we go over some of the different ways high caseloads hinder social work.


1. There’s an increased turnover rate.2
The retention of social workers is severely impacted by high caseload numbers. In fact, high caseloads are cited as one of the top reasons for preventable turnover. Research has shown time and time again that agencies with lower caseloads per worker are a significant factor when predicting retention. Further, a study conducted on the retention of child welfare workers in California found that social workers were more likely to stay if their caseload built up slowly over time, versus being assigned all at once upon hire.

2. It can be costly.
Increased turnover rates associated with high caseloads are expensive to manage. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, each social worker who leaves costs the agency an estimated $54,000.3 What exactly goes into these costs? A few essential but expensive processes, including the separation of employer and employees, recruitment of new workers, and the mandatory training of new hires.2

3. Employees experience lower job satisfaction.
Role overload can also lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout for social workers. The stress brought on by high caseloads drastically affects overall job satisfaction and the general well-being of employees. Compassion fatigue, which is a set of symptoms that affect those serving in a caregiving role, can occur when a social worker is exposed to the ongoing suffering of others. And though it is possible for social workers and healthcare professionals with an average caseload to experience these symptoms—including depression, hopelessness, and low self-esteem—the chances are much higher as cases increase.

4. The quality of services decreases.
Child welfare processes are time intensive. These processes include assessment, family engagement, relationship building, coordination of services, and more.3 When a social worker is inundated with too many cases, they are unable to dedicate the necessary amount of time to each case. A reasonable caseload allows for social workers to allocate the proper amount of time they need to engage with and better support children and families. Additionally, a higher caseload can mean that more time is spent on documentation than on human connection, which is a critical aspect of the services social workers provide.

5. Outcomes for children and families are negatively impacted.
According to Federal Child and Family Services Reviews, caseloads and workloads are linked to the performance of social workers. Job performance is directly tied to achieving positive outcomes for children and families, such as safety and permanency outcomes.3 With this understanding, state and local agencies continue to implement strategies that promote manageable caseloads for social workers and healthcare professionals in order to continually improve child welfare and achieve favorable outcomes.

Advance Your Social Work Career With an MSW Degree From Walden

If you’re passionate about becoming a change agent within and beyond your local community and advocating for social justice on behalf of diverse populations, earning your master’s in social work online is a great place to start. In Walden’s CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program, you can develop the therapeutic skills to engage clients in defining issues, setting and prioritizing goals, and committing to the change process. And at Walden, an accredited university, you can earn your degree online while you continue to work full time. That means you don’t have to put your social work career on hold while you further your knowledge and experience. With online education, there’s no need to completely rearrange your schedule or commute to campus—you can take classes at whatever time of day works best for you as you study for your MSW degree and position yourself to make a difference in the lives of others.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation is responsible for developing standards that define competent preparation for professional social workers and ensuring that social work programs meet these standards.

Note on licensure: The minimum academic credential required to obtain licensure to practice as a social worker in most states is a Master of Social Work (MSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Walden University’s MSW program is accredited by CSWE.

State licensing boards are responsible for regulating the practice of social work, and each state has its own academic, licensure, and certification requirements.

Walden recommends that students consult the appropriate social work licensing board in the state in which they plan to practice to determine the specific academic requirements for licensure. Walden Enrollment Specialists can provide information relating to the state-by-state requirements for licensure. However, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all licensing requirements for the state in which he or she intends to practice. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of its coursework or programs will permit an individual to achieve state licensure, authorization, endorsement, or other state credential as a social worker.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,