Methods: Workforce data comes from two state and two county public child welfare agencies. An organizational health assessment was sent to 5,787 staff members and was completed by 4,117 participants (71% response rate). This study utilizes a subsample of caseworkers and supervisors with BSW and/or MSW degrees (N=787). Moral distress is measured using the role conflict subscale (4-items) in Parker’s Organizational Climate scale. Internal constraint is measured using the Edmundson Psychological Safety scale; external constraints are measured using time pressure and job stress scales (both 5-items). Linear regression examines the relationship between internal and external constraints and moral distress, while controlling for secondary traumatic stress, burnout, and demographics characteristics.
Results: One-third of CWSW indicated that they have experiences of moral distress as measured by role conflict. The overall regression model was statistically significant, F(11,632)=19.65, with an R2 of .25 (p<.001). Parameter estimates indicated that psychological safety was negatively related to moral distress (b=-.38, p<.001), while time pressure (b=.09, p<.05) and job stress (b=.14, p<.05) were positively related to moral distress.
Conclusion/Implications: Results indicate that CWSW’s experience morally distressing situations in their work and that both internal and external constraints potentially heighten experiences of moral distress. For CWSW whose profession centers around the protection of children and strengthening families and who are also held to social workers’ code of ethics, experiences of moral distress may impact client outcomes (e.g. delivery of services), worker well-being, and retention. Suggestions for future moral distress research in child welfare, its impact on worker well-being, and strategies to promote retention in the profession will be discussed.