The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

The Quest for Rural Child Welfare Workers: How Different Are They From Their Urban Counterparts in Demographics, Work Attitudes, and Organizational Climate?

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 11:15 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, Riverview, Lower Parking Level, Elevator Level P1 (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
HaeJung Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV
Karen M. Hopkins, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD
Background and Purpose:

Recruitment and retention of child welfare workers in rural communities have been noted as a major problem for the profession (NASW, 2006; Phillips, Quinn, & Heitkamp, 2010). For example, previous literature described problems of rural practice such as lack of adequate support, lack of resources, less professional education/training opportunities, higher role ambiguity and conflict, which contributed to the high staff turnover, increased service delivery cost, and lack of experienced practitioners (Landsman, 2002; Loanne, 2001; Strolin-Goltzman et al., 2008). Although there has been extensive research on child welfare workforce issues, little is known about rural child welfare workers and their organizational climate. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to identify characteristics of rural child welfare workers and perceptions of their organizational climate, specifically focusing on the differences between rural and urban child welfare workers in their level of stress, engagement, functionality, and work attitudes.


A cross-sectional design was used for this study. Data was derived from an online survey completed by 601 randomly selected child welfare workers in a mid-Atlantic state. Organizational climate and work attitudes were measured using the Organizational Social Context (OSC) scale (Glisson, 2006, 2008). A total of 561 online surveys were completed for a 56.5% response rates, and 544 surveys were eligible for analysis. Multiple imputations were employed for missing data (Schafer & Graham, 2002). MANOVA and two-group multiple regressions were performed using SPSS 20.0.


A series of MANOVA tests were performed to compare individual characteristics of urban and rural child welfare workers. The two groups did not significantly differ on age, education, tenure, caseload, and caregiver role identity. The urban child welfare workers scored higher on work stress than did the rural workers, specifically, on role conflict and role overload; however, there were no differences on the level of emotional exhaustion between groups. In terms of functionality, captured by three first order factors of growth and advancement, role clarity, and peer cooperation, rural workers scored higher on growth and advancement, role clarity, and peer cooperation than urban workers. The two groups did not differ in their level of work engagement which was relatively high. Regarding work attitudes, there were no differences in job satisfaction, but rural workers reported higher organizational commitment than urban workers. The results of multiple regression analysis indicated that different factors were associated with urban and rural child welfare workers’ organizational commitment. For example, after controlling for other variables, organizational functionality (i.e. role clarity, growth and advancement) was the strongest factor contributing to rural workers’ organizational commitment while the individual characteristic of career commitment was most important for urban workers’ organizational commitment.

Discussion and Suggestions:

 The findings suggest that different managerial strategies may be needed to increase rural child welfare workers’ organizational commitment. Rural workers appear to more highly value cooperation and collaboration with coworkers, clear expectations and adequate resources, and opportunities for professional growth and promotion. These are factors primarily within the control of management that would contribute to workers’ commitment within rural agencies.