Abstract: Frontline Child Protection and Client-Perpetrated Violence: Who Is Vulnerable? (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Frontline Child Protection and Client-Perpetrated Violence: Who Is Vulnerable?

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 5:30 PM
Union Square 14 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Melissa Radey, PhD, Associate Professor, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Dina Wilke, PhD, Professor, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Background and Purpose. With its increasing prevalence, workplace violence is a growing concern for child protective services (CPS) workers. It is detrimental to worker wellbeing with consequences including physical injury and psychological illnesses. Affected workers commonly describe psychological and emotional consequences (e.g., fear, anxiety). In addition to human costs, violence creates agency costs including medical expenses for victims, lost productivity, lower service quality, job turnover, and a less experienced workforce. Client-perpetrated violence also may culminate in poor child outcomes (e.g., unsafe homes) as hostile parents create a fearful atmosphere and affect workers’ ability to conduct comprehensive assessments.

Despite the detrimental impacts of violence, few studies capture violence in a representative sample of CPS workers or consider who among CPS workers is most susceptible. This presentation uses a statewide sample of newly-hired CPS workers to examine the prevalence of violence in the first six months of employment and considers the influence of demographic characteristics (e.g., race and ethnicity, gender), worker role (i.e., investigator or case manager), and county population size in violent incidents.

Methodology. The study used the [Study Name blinded] (Study Acronym) dataset, a five-year, longitudinal panel study of CPS workers (N=1,501) designed to provide insight into work experiences and subsequent employment decisions. All workers hired in [State] between September 2015 and December 2016 were eligible to participate. Participants complete bi-annual, online surveys to measure individual and organizational influences on worker experiences, wellbeing, and turnover. A full 82% of eligible workers participated in Wave 1 and 89% of Wave 1 respondents completed Wave 2. To measure client-perpetrated violence, workers completed the Workplace Violence Scale, a 9-item dichotomous index in which workers responded as to whether they had experienced various types of non-physical violence, threats, or physical violence from a client or a member of a client’s household since on the job.

Results. CPS workers experienced high levels of non-physical violence (75%), threats (37%), and physical violence (2%) during their first few months with client caseloads. Logistic regression results indicated that age, race, education, and position related to instances of violence. In terms of non-physical violence, being older, Black or Hispanic, a social worker, and a case manager decreased the odds of experiencing violence. Blacks also had lower odds of being threatened than their White counterparts. Although its low incidence prevented a multivariate examination of physical violence, bivariate analyses indicated that being Black or serving an urban county increased exposure while a social work degree decreased exposure.

Conclusions and Implications. Findings advance knowledge about violence towards CPS workers and contribute to three main implications. First, the high prevalence of violence within the first months on the job illustrates the importance of conflict and violence training before workers acquire independent caseloads. Second, institutionalized mandatory reporting procedures with definitions of non-physical violence, threats, and physical violence may promote a culture of safety rather than an attitude that violence is part of the job. Third, supervisors and peers can benefit from opportunities to support one other.