Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) is documented as a frequent occupational hazard among child welfare workers who work with children and families with experiences of trauma. However, limited research has been conducted to develop a trauma-informed organizational framework that prevents STS and reduces its negative effects (e.g., burnout and turnover). We propose that organizational justice, conceptualized as fairness in the workplace, can provide underlying principles to develop this effective trauma-informed organization. Organizational justice is a multidimensional concept that includes distributive, procedural, interactional, and informational justice. Previous studies have shown that it is significantly related to changing workers’ attitudes and behaviors. We expect that this study will provide useful insights into developing the theory of change for a Just Trauma-Informed Organization that clearly explains whether and how organizational justice leads to improving child welfare workers’ well-being and workforce outcomes.
We analyzed the subsample of the Comprehensive Organizational Health Assessment survey data. The secondary data were collected from 2245 child welfare workers who had direct contact with children and families across three states. Major variables for this study were measured using valid and reliable scales, including organizational justice (alpha = .87), self-care (alpha = .72), STS (alpha = .95), burnout (alpha = .91), and intent to stay in a current agency (alpha = .80). Structural Equation Modeling was employed to test the proposed path model using Mplus version 8.4. Missing data were handled with full information maximum likelihood.
Model fit indices reported that the path model fit the data well (CFI = .994; RMSEA = .024). Organizational justice was associated directly with child welfare workers’ intent to stay in their current agency (β = .239, p < .001). Furthermore, organizational justice significantly increased workers’ active engagement in self-care activities (β = .345, p < .001); and self-care activities then significantly decreased STS (β = -.288, p < .001) as well as their burnout (β = -.129, p < .001). Finally, burnout had a negative direct effect on the intent to stay (β = -.224, p < .001). The direct effect of STS was not significant although it decreased the intent to stay indirectly through the burnout (β = .626, p < .001).
Organizational justice not only directly increased child welfare workers’ intent to stay but also indirectly increased this workforce outcome by facilitating self-care activities to reduce workers’ STS and burnout. These findings are useful in developing the theory of change for the JTIO. This organizational framework may (1) provide child welfare workers with an equal distribution of resources and opportunities to address their STS and burnout effectively (distributive justice), (2) allow them to engage in organizational decision-making about trauma-informed policies and services (procedural justice), (3) foster mutual support through fair treatment between workers (interpersonal justice), and (4) provide transparent and sufficient information that help them to make right decisions about their well-being (informational justice). Additional research is needed to further refine the JTIO and translate it into an effective organizational practice model.