Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15650 The Relationship Between Vicarious Traumatization and Retention Among Child Welfare Professionals

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 8:45 AM
Independence B (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Middleton, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Cathryn C. Potter, Professor, Associate Provost for Research, Executive Director, Butler Institute for Families, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Inna Altschul, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: In an effort to implement and sustain quality services to children experiencing maltreatment, child welfare organizations commonly face workforce-related challenges, specifically in regards to workforce capacity. Challenges such as extremely high caseload ratios, work absences, and rates of turnover are due, in large part, to the vicarious traumatization child welfare professionals experience from having a job that exposes them to often severe forms of child maltreatment on a daily basis. Specifically, child welfare workers who investigate child abuse and provide services to child abuse victims and their families, work directly with traumatized and resistive clients. As such, they bear witness to some of the most severe forms of child abuse and trauma, including sexual abuse and physical abuse resulting in death. Therefore, the very nature of the work can have a significant impact on the emotional well-being and ability of child welfare professionals to effectively perform their jobs, potentially limiting quality service delivery to those in need of services and contributing to overall workforce capacity issues. In spite of this, minimal research has been conducted to explore the impact of vicarious trauma on child welfare professionals' intent to leave their job. METHODS: This quantitative study utilized cross-sectional data to examine the relationship between vicarious traumatization and job retention among 1,192 child welfare professionals at five unique and diverse child welfare organizations throughout the country. The study utilized a self-administered, computer-assisted survey instrument, conducted onsite and remotely. All professional staff within the five child welfare organizations were invited to participate. Propositions from Constructivist Self Development Theory (CSDT) were utilized to examine the differential factors influencing the impact of vicarious trauma on child welfare professionals' intent to leave their organization, including coping strategies, professional efficacy, and professional satisfaction. Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) was used to assess the degree of fit between the observed data and several hypothesized theoretical models examining the relationships between vicarious traumatization (VT), coping strategies (CS), professional efficacy (PE), professional satisfaction (PS), and retention (IL). RESULTS: Findings from SEM analyses revealed a significant relationship between VT and IL (b=0.720, p<.001), with 33% of the variance in IL explained by VT. Further, this relationship was partially mediated by PE (indirect effect of VT on IL through PE: b=0.073, p<.001; total variance explained in IL: 36%) and PS (indirect effect of VT on IL through PS: b=0.135, p<.001; total variance explained in IL: 42%). These findings indicated that child welfare professionals who experienced significantly higher rates of vicarious traumatization were more likely to leave their organization. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: Findings indicate that vicarious traumatization is a significant contributor to child welfare professionals' intention to leave their jobs and point to the importance of the development and expansion of needed support services, resources, training, and research for child welfare professionals in the field. Specifically, implications regarding how child welfare organizations can help to mitigate the impact of vicarious trauma on child welfare professionals, and thus, increase the retention of a trained, competent workforce, will be discussed.
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