Abstract: Judging the Judged: Exploring Child Welfare Workers' Stigmatizing Attitudes Toward Clients (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Judging the Judged: Exploring Child Welfare Workers' Stigmatizing Attitudes Toward Clients

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Desiree Burns, MSW, Doctoral Student, Florida State University, FL
Dina Wilke, PhD, Professor, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Background and Purpose. Some clients, such as low-income populations and parents involved with the child welfare system, feel stigmatized by social service providers. These perceptions result in client anxiety and distrust of providers. There is little research documenting predictors of providers’ stigma toward clients and none that focuses on child welfare workers. The present study explores the relationship between child welfare worker characteristics, work experiences, and provider stigma.

Methods. Data were taken from wave 1 (baseline) and wave 4 (18-months) of the Florida Study of Professionals for Safe Families (n=1500). The sample included 489 respondents who remained in child welfare and participated at wave 4. The sample included case managers (54%) and child protective investigators (46%) between the ages of 20 and 62 (M=30.6). The majority were female (89.2%) and non-Hispanic White (42%) or non-Hispanic Black (37.8%). The majority held a four-year degree (83.2%) and a degree in a human service profession (63.9%).

Independent variables included age, gender (male/female), race (Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic Other, and non-Hispanic White), religious faith (very important or less important), degree (4-year/graduate or professional), degree type (social work/other human service/non-human service), role (case manager/child protective investigator), total number of client perpetrated violence experiences (continuous), and experience of discrimination in current work environment (yes/no). Analyses included descriptive statistics and a linear regression to assess the effect of worker characteristics and work experiences on provider stigma. The dependent variable was provider stigma, a continuous variable measured with the attitudes sub-scale from the Child Welfare Provider Stigma Inventory (M=19.3). The attitudes sub-scale includes nine items with 6-point Likert scoring (0=completely disagree; 5=completely agree). Item examples: “Although I try not to, sometimes I believe the parents I work with are not capable of change” and “Sometimes I feel like the parents I work with lie to get what they want.” Positively worded items were reverse scored. Higher scores on the sub-scale reflected greater stigmatizing attitudes toward clients.

Results. Approximately half the sample reported their religious faith is very important (53.8%). Most of the workers experienced client perpetrated violence (85.7%) and did not experience discrimination in their current work environment (71.5%). Among those reporting workplace discrimination, age (17.3%) and race/ethnicity (15.8%) were most commonly reported.

Regression results found a combination of worker characteristics and work experiences influence provider stigma. Worker age (b=-.19, p<.001), being non-Hispanic Black (b=-3.61, p<.001), and religious faith being very important (b=-1.61, p<.05) reduced provider stigma scores. Experiencing discrimination in the current work environment (b=2.14, p<.01) and greater amounts of client perpetrated violence (b=.91, p<.01) increased workers’ stigmatizing attitudes toward clients.

Conclusions and Implications. The results suggest agencies may reduce provider stigma by improving experiences in the workplace, both interactions with clients and in the agency. Decreasing experiences of discrimination and client perpetrated violence may improve feelings of safety and support. Further research of groups with lower stigmatizing attitudes may identify perspectives of clients that can improve training or workplace interventions to reduce provider stigma.