Child welfare worker retention is a key factor in improving outcomes for at-risk children and their families within the child welfare system. Due to the nature of the job workers are likely to encounter client-perpetrated violence (CPV). Little is known about CPV apart from prevalence data, and less is known about the role of CPV in relation to worker turnover decisions or commitment to the field of child welfare. The current study uses data from a statewide sample of child welfare workers, to explore the role of CPV in workers’ commitment to the field of child welfare, and to determine the role of psychological distress in the relationship between CPV and commitment to the field.
This study uses data from a statewide longitudinal study investigating retention among newly-hired child welfare workers. Data for this analysis were collected at time of hire, 6-months, and 12-months post-hire. CPV was measured through a positive response to several dichotomous indicators occurring over the previous six months. These indicators were grouped according to type (i.e. non-physical, threats, and assault). Worker experiences were further categorized as no experience of CPV, at 6-months only, at 12-months only, and at both 6 and 12-months. Workers also completed scales related to their commitment to child welfare, and level of psychological distress. Quantitative analyses included descriptive statistics, ANOVAs, and multiple regression.
After 12 months of employment, 91.4% (n=734) of workers reported experiencing at least one incident of CPV during their employment, with 90.5% experiencing non-physical violence, 58.5% reporting at least one threat, and 5.6% reporting at least one assault. Using total experiences of CPV (none, at 6 months, at 12 months, or during both measurement periods), ANOVA analyses found no significant difference in workers’ commitment to child welfare. Means for psychological distress (F=4.91, p<.001) and current mental health rating (F=5.08, p<.01) were significantly different depending on workers’ experiences of CPV.
Multiple regression analyses suggested that cumulative CPV exposure predicted psychological distress (B=1.82; p<.01); however, it did not predict commitment to child welfare. Psychological distress was a significant predictor of commitment to the field (B=-.06; p<.001). An interaction term between cumulative CPV experience and psychological distress was a significant predictor of commitment to the field (B=-.09; p<.001). A more detailed regression analysis indicated that an interaction of psychological distress and non-physical CPV was a significant predictor of commitment to the field of child welfare (B=-.07; p<.01; R2change=.06; p=<.001).
The findings from this study suggest that CPV plays a role in worker level of psychological distress, and that psychological distress is a significant predictor of commitment to the field of child welfare. This has implications for the current high levels of worker turnover and the ramifications of turnover on service delivery for at-risk families, as commitment to the field of child welfare is often associated with retention of workers. These results can be used in a discussion of the types of training and support early-career child welfare workers may need to remain committed to their roles.