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

15953 Public Child Welfare Workers' Safety Experiences: Impact On Job Withdrawal Using Mixed-Methods Approaches

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 9:15 AM
Independence B (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
HaeJung Kim, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Karen M. Hopkins, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD
Background and Purpose: Child welfare workers might encounter an unsafe working environment through visiting clients in dangerous neighborhoods (Burry, 2002; Newhill & Wexler, 1997). Although previous studies have consistently emphasized the importance of creating safe working environments, most studies in social work are descriptive, reporting the prevalence of violence or types of violence, with a few demographic variables (Horejsi, 1994; Jayaratne et al., 2004; Newhill, 1996; Newhill & Wexler, 1997; Shields & Kiser, 2003). Little research has been done on when child welfare workers feel safety concerns and how safety issues affect their organizational outcomes, in particular their job withdrawal. This paper reports on a mixed-method study that includes a multi-level analysis of child welfare workers in a statewide public child welfare organization to determine the relationship between worker safety concerns during home visits and their job withdrawal. It sought to answer three questions: 1) What are the workplace violence experiences of child welfare workers? 2) How is child welfare worker safety concerns related to their job withdrawal? 3) What impact does organizational support have on child welfare workers' perception of risk?

Methods: A mixed method sequential explanatory design which purposefully selects participants for a follow-up, in-depth, qualitative study (Creswell & Clark, 2007) was used to address research questions. In the first phase of the study, a total of 561 online surveys were completed for a 56.5% response rate. A multilevel analysis was performed using SPSS 18.0 (2009). Individual safety concerns within local departments were averaged to create organizational-level (aggregate) unsafe climate scores. In order to explain significant or non-significant results obtained in the first phase, in-depth semi-structure interviews were conducted with 10 child welfare workers who scored high both on perception of risk (upper 25%) and job withdrawal (upper 25%). NVivo 9 was employed for qualitative data.

Results: Results shows that majority of child welfare workers engaged at in avoidance behavior (e.g. end home visits earlier, meet clients at public place) because of their safety concerns at least once in the past 12 months. As hypothesized, safety concerns at the individual level was associated with individual child welfare workers' job withdrawal (B=.623, p<.001), which indicates that greater exposure to an unsafe working environment was associated with the higher level of job withdrawal. However, unsafe climate (aggregated at the organizational level) and cross-level interactions of unsafe climate with social support were not statistically significant. Qualitative interviews also confirmed safety concerns as a primary contributor to child welfare workers' job withdrawal. In addition, major themes were identified from the interviews: 1) culture of silence regarding personal safety issues, 2) lack of safety training or education, 3) distrust management dealing with workplace violence.

Conclusions and Recommendations: A survey and interview data highlighted the importance of personal safety issues on worker withdrawal behaviors. In addition, interview data support the need for creating safety climate in child welfare field. Therefore, an education programs for managers or potential managers are necessary to enhance their awareness of and skills associated with safety issues.