Background: Numerous studies have sought to identify factors that contribute to or mitigate child welfare caseworker burnout. One limitation of prior studies is that these factors are most often viewed as unchanging throughout a caseworker’s lifespan. This assumption is likely unfounded since caseworkers possess varying levels of experience and require different supports based on their agency tenure. Using the Copenhagen and job demands-resources models of burnout, this study explored how job demands and resources associated with caseworker burnout may vary with tenure.
Methods: Caseworkers in two states completed an online survey (N = 1,823). Most respondents were female (87.3%) or white/non-latinx (81.8%), and most held a bachelor’s degree (82.7%). Half of the respondents worked in permanency/ongoing units and approximately one-third worked in intake/assessment units (35.8%).
Burnout was measured with the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory’s work-related burnout scale (7 items). Three job demands were examined—job stress (4-item scale), time pressure (5-item scale) and caseload (1 item). Four job resources were tested—supervisor support (16-item scale), coworker support (7-item scale), self-care (8-item scale), and training utility (6-item scale). Internal consistency for all scales was above .80 which is considered very good (Devillis, 1991).
The sample was divided into four tenure cohorts: beginner (<2 years), early (2-5 years), mid (6-11 years), and late-career caseworkers (≥11 years). Linear regressions were run for each cohort to identify job demands and resources associated with caseworker burnout. Z-tests for cross-model comparisons of coefficients were conducted to determine if the strength of significant relationships differed across cohorts.
Results: Job stress was positively associated with burnout across all cohorts, though the relationship was stronger in the mid-career cohort (β = .66, p < .001) compared to the beginner (β = .36, p < .001; z = 2.85, p = .002) and early career (β = .39, p < .001; z = 2.34, p = .008) cohorts. Time pressure was positively related to burnout in the beginner (β = .31, p < .001), early career (β = .14, p < .001), and late career (β = .31, p < .001) cohorts. The relationship was higher in the beginner (z = 2.58, p = .005) and late-career (z = 1.91, p = .028) cohorts relative to the early career cohort. Supervisor support was negatively associated with burnout among beginner caseworkers only (β = -.10, p = .004), and training utility was negatively associated with burnout among early career caseworkers only (β = -.12, p < .001). Increased self-care was linked to reduced burnout in each cohort and the strength of the relationship did not vary.
Implications: The overall finding is that factors linked to caseworker burnout indeed varied with tenure. Regardless of tenure, job stress appears to be a consistent job demand while self-care is an important job resource. However, the relationship that time pressure, supervisor support, and training utility had with burnout varied across cohorts. Practice and policy implications, as well as recommendations for future research for addressing caseworker burnout, will be discussed.