Abstract: Exploring Perceived Competencies and Factors Contributing to Burnout and Retention Among Title IV-E Graduates (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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294P Exploring Perceived Competencies and Factors Contributing to Burnout and Retention Among Title IV-E Graduates

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Meekyung Han, Professor, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA
Peter A. Lee, Ph.D., Director and Professor, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA
Pnina Green, LCSW, Title IV-E Project Coordinator, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA
The Title IV-E Child Welfare Training and Stipend Program (hereafter Title IV-E), federally funded by the Title IV-E Child Welfare and Adoption Assistance Act of 1980, was created to increase the competent and committed public child welfare (PCW) workforce. Title IV-E graduates join the PCW workforce to care and advocate for abused and neglected children. However, frequent engagement with abused and neglected children’s traumatic experiences contribute to burnout among PCW professionals. With few exceptions, studies document that PCW social workers experience higher burnout levels and job turnover than peers in other settings. However, less information is available about burnout and retention among Title IV-E graduates. This study, therefore, explores three research questions (RQs): 1. What are the perceived PCW competencies, burnout, and retention levels? 2. What factors contribute to burnout and retention? And 3. What do Title IV-E graduates recommend for enhancing the Title IV-E program?

This mixed-methods cross-sectional study utilized an online survey, including closed and open-ended questions for 44 Title IV-E graduates in the PCW workforce in the Bay Area, CA. Closed-ended questions investigated demographic and contextual characteristics (e.g., primary work assignment, job classification), burnout (e.g., feel burned out from the job, feel a loss of enthusiasm for child welfare work), organizational culture (e.g., organizational climate, communication quality, support from supervisors, workload fairness), perceived PCW competencies based on the NASW standards for social work practice in child welfare, commitment to and retention at PCW agencies (e.g., I am fully committed to child welfare as a career choice), and self-care (e.g., I practice self-care and pace myself to prevent tiredness). The study variables showed good Cronbach’s 𝛼 (0.83 to 0.98). About half the participants’ ages (54.5%) were in their 30s, and most reported being Latinx (40.9%) or White (36.4%). Open-ended questions explored the participants’ recommendations to help them become better equipped for PCW in the context of IV-E.

Regarding RQ1, univariate analyses revealed participants reporting strong PCW competencies (x̄ = 3.13 out of 4) and intention to remain in child welfare (x̄ = 2.85 out of 4), but feel burned out (x̄ = 2.46 out of 4). For RQ2, while controlling for demographic and contextual characteristics and perceived competencies, multiple regression analyses indicated that poorer organizational culture predicted higher burnout and lower retention (standardized β = –0.43 and –0.89, respectively, p < .001), while higher self-care predicted lower burnout (standardized β = 0.52, p < .05). Regarding RQ3, content analysis of the responses revealed that learning more about navigating the court system and identifying signs of vicarious/secondary trauma might reduce compassion fatigue and burnout risks.

Despite the study’s small sample, important implications from findings for child welfare leaders, supervisors, and educators include that enhancing positive organizational culture, promoting self-care practices, and addressing workers’ well-being are critical to retaining a qualified PCW workforce. Building a healthy organizational environment where PCW workers can perform their best and maintain their commitment to serving at-risk children and families is vital, especially since social workers are integral in life-changing decisions and interventions.