top of page

The Time is Now to Support Our Social Workers: Kentucky’s Social Work Crisis

Aligning with Women’s History Month, March is recognized by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) as Social Work Month, a time to celebrate and appreciate the never-ending work of our social workers.

The alignment of these two month-long observances seems fitting given the development of social work in the United States, a field pioneered by great woman leaders. From the first medical social workers Garnet Pelton and Ida Cannon to social advocates such as Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells, and further to activists like Dorothy Height, social workers ensure the safety, security, and success of the individual within the home, hospital, school, and broader society.

In the continued stress and setbacks of providing this essential service today, two years into a pandemic, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) brings us this year’s Social Work Month theme: “The Time is Now for Social Work.”

The urgency found in the 2022 theme fittingly echoes an ongoing crisis for Kentucky social workers overseeing cases of child abuse and neglect. As preexisting problems within the field and tense working conditions compound with the added difficulty of continuing social services during a pandemic, the situation facing Kentucky social work worsens as many workers leave in seek of less stressful conditions and higher pay.

According to the Courier Journal, over 600 of the around 4,300 social workers that oversee welfare services such as child abuse and neglect cases, adoption, and foster care, left the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) workforce last year. This is an almost 14% decrease in the workforce overall.

For Shari Christoff, Director of Advocacy at CASA of the River Region, her position gives her a front row seat to this reality as it plays out locally in Louisville.

“I’ve worked for CASA for 26 years,” Christoff said, “and Jefferson County is not in a good place. Turnover rates are high, caseloads increase as the loads of those who leave are redistributed and for social workers overseeing cases of abuse and neglect, “It’s easy to get that compassion fatigue and secondary trauma because they are working so hard. Our hearts go out to them because it is not an easy job.”

Christoff oversees the orientation, training, and work of CASA volunteers and their supervisors, who are assigned by judges to advocate for children navigating Family Court. While social workers are left with little time to devote to each case due to large caseloads, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) only work with one case at a time, allowing individualized attention to get to know the child and their situation.

According to Christoff: “Social workers are often limited in how frequently they can see families because they are so overworked. The judge that started [CASA] wanted somebody who was going to be able to visit on a consistent basis and really dive in to get to know the child and their family.”

Christoff emphasizes the hard work, dedication, and heart of the social worker in a tough field. But she also emphasizes the role a CASA can play in supporting caseworkers in ensuring the safety and security of the child, adding an additional perspective to supplement that of the social worker and the Guardian Ad Litem, the attorney representing the child in Family Court.

“The idea is collaboration,” Christoff said. “You can never have too many eyes on these kids.”

More than just social workers, this shortage effects the safety of our children. The lack of workers affects the ability of child abuse reports to get substantiated, proper care and attention to be paid to the situation of the children during the case’s proceedings, and safe, permanent homes to be found for them in the end.

“It’s all about the kids,” Christoff said.

Powerful woman Civil Rights leader and social worker Dorothy Height said, “We hold in our hands the power to shape not only our own but the nation’s future.”

Child welfare is everyone’s responsibility. The time is now to support our social workers, and the time is now to support our children.

If you would like to get involved in the work of CASA, join our monthly virtual information session every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month. or contact Community Engagement Manager, Leah Nord,


bottom of page