Abstract: What Drives Barefoot Social Workers' Task Identity for Protecting the Disadvantaged Children in China? (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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What Drives Barefoot Social Workers' Task Identity for Protecting the Disadvantaged Children in China?

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Mingzi Ma, MSW Student, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, China
Guanghuai Zheng, PhD, Professor, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, China
Jun Huang, Assistant Professor, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, China
Background: In 2019, community child protection workers in rural areas were officially recognized by the Chinese government and promoted by means of policies for child protection. Such workers are commonly called “child officers”, and from a professional perspective, they are known as “barefoot social workers” (United Nations Child Welfare Agency, 2019) and are members of local communities. However, no research has investigated this topic. We seek to learn what drives them to complete their work. Thus, we developed a “craftsmanship spirit” model, based on a conceptual exploratory model of barefoot social workers’ task identity, to increase the understanding of the relationships between barefoot social workers’ conscientiousness and competency and their task identity.

Methods: Adopting data from a nationwide survey collected in China in 2018, we studied 756 barefoot social workers that were engaged in child protection. Of the total respondents, 87.2% were female (n = 659), their mean age was 38 years old (SD = 6.614), only 17.2% held an educational background in social work (n = 129), and 46.8% had social work licensing (n = 361).

For statistical controls, we used Harman’s one-factor test and several variables was analyzed. A two-step process analysis was employed. First, we built a structural equation model and examined the direct and indirect relationships between the social workers’ conscientiousness and professional competency and their task identity. Second, we tested moderating effects by using two multiple-group analyses of the workers’ working patterns and levels of training matching.

Results: The results show that the child welfare caseworkers’ conscientiousness was significantly and positively associated with their task identity (β = 0.58***, R2 = 0.34), with community work competency (β = 0.53***, R2 = 0.28) and with case management competency (β = 0.49***, R2 = 0.24). And community work competency acted as a partial mediator, buffering the effects of conscientiousness on task identity. The indirect effect (0.195) was statistically significant, and the direct effect was also significant (direct effect = 0.0339, p > 0.05). Working pattern and levels of training matching played the moderating role and had positive effects on relationship between community work competency and task identity (0.781 vs. 0.407) and on relationship between conscientiousness and community work competency (0.380 vs. -.285).

Implications: The findings point to the need for further development of the workforce of barefoot social workers to serve as a national grassroots safety net for disadvantaged children, and calls for a greater combination of craftsmanship and professionalism, the barefoot social workers’ awareness of child protection, sense of responsibility and their professional competency need to be improved. An advanced professionalization of Chinese social workers should be promoted, and identity clarification and incentive guarantee mechanisms should be improved to establish a professional working team. Greater emphases on values guidance and support in routine duties and greater case management competencies should be developed and matched training for barefoot social workers should be provided.