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.