The high turnover rates among child welfare social workers have been a chronic issue that society has yet to resolve. In attempt to understand this problem, we looked at contributing factors that caused the high turnover rates in comparison to the factors that promote job longevity of child welfare social workers. The researchers reviewed the Multidimensional Theory of Burnout, to explore the ongoing issue of high turnover rates. In addition, Organizational Support Theory was examined to determine if support from organizations contributed to job longevity. The Post Positivist approach was used to gather qualitative data for this study as to the potential factors promoting job longevity through individual interviews with seasoned child welfare social workers. The study participants’ demonstrated a strong sense of self-awareness and utilization of internal traits that promoted job longevity.
In addition, a majority of the study participants were able to identify potential barriers in the workplace, the skills needed for professional development, and the benefit of having support both inside and outside of their work environment in order to effectively do their job. By understanding the influential factors that contribute to job longevity in seasoned workers, child welfare agencies can implement measures to promote job retention for child welfare social workers. Furthermore, when agencies take action to invest in child welfare social workers by providing them support, it is reflected in the quality of their work and in client engagement.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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CHAPTER ONE: ASSESSMENT
Research focus and/or question
Paradigm and rationale for chosen paradigm
Contribution of study to micro and/or macro social work practice
CHAPTER TWO: ENGAGEMENT
The Role of Technology in Engagement
CHAPTER THREE: IMPLEMENTATION
Selection of Participants
Phases of data collection
Data Analysis Procedures
CHAPTER FOUR EVALUATION
Implications of Findings for Micro and/or Macro Practice
CHAPTER FIVE: TERMINATION AND FOLLOW UP
Termination of study
Communicating findings to study site and study participants
Onngoing relationship with study participants
APPENDIX A: DATA COLLECTION INSTRUMENT(S)
APPENDIX B: INFORMED CONSENT
APPENDIX C: DEBRIEFING STATEMENT
CHAPTER ONE: ASSESSMENT
This chapter introduces the research focus which was intended to gain insight from “seasoned” child welfare social workers as to the factors that have influenced them to remain in that line of work for an extended amount of time. The researchers will explain the rationale of the post positivist paradigm in correlation to the research focus and the gathering of qualitative data. The literature review will provide supporting information and a theoretical orientation will be derived to understand the ongoing issue of high turnover rates of child welfare social workers. Lastly, this chapter will discuss the potential contribution of this study to the micro and macro social work practice.
The research focus of this study is intended to obtain insight as to the factors that promote job longevity in child welfare social workers. To further explore these factors, child welfare social workers were interviewed and asked open-ended questions to get a better understanding of what they perceived to be the reasons that kept them doing their job.
Paradigm and rationale for chosen paradigm
The chosen paradigm for this research study is the Post Positivist approach. The Post Positivist approach in a research study takes an inductive exploratory approach to understanding an objective reality (Morris, 2014). By incorporating the Post Positivist approach within this research study, it allowed the researchers to explore the contributing factors of the objective reality regarding high turnover rates and the factors that promote job longevity of child welfare social workers. By using the Post Positivist approach, it also allowed the researchers to gather qualitative data in a naturalistic setting by interviewing seasoned child welfare social workers. The researchers gathered information from literature reviews and derived a theory based on the interpretation of the literature. The researchers also used their work experience as child welfare social workers to support to provide insight.
Across the United States, there are is a high turnover rate of social workers working in child welfare field. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), “There is an estimated turnover rate of child welfare social workers between 30-40% annually nationwide, with the average tenure being less than two years (2003).” An article by Strolin-Goltzman (2008) states that the resulting high turnover rates of child welfare social workers are a consistent and chronic issue that society has been undergoing for over four decades. Evidence of this was found by a “1960 Children’s Bureau report calling for the states to address their recruitment and retention challenges” (Strolin-Goltzman, 2008). An article written by Shier, Graham, Fukuda, Brownlee, Kline, Walj, and Novik (2012), reported that there are ten key trends that lead to child welfare social workers’ leaving the workplace. The following are the discovered trends: “High caseloads, bureaucratic and punitive agency practices, lack of resources, lack of intellectual challenge, lack of satisfaction with promotional opportunities, exclusion in the workplace, role ambiguity, lack of a work life balance, lack of organizational support, and lack of perceived organizational fairness in procedures and outcomes” (Shier, Graham, Fukuda, Brownlee, Kline, Walj, & Novik, 2012). Pines (1982) noted that the work demands and the high responsibility of a child welfare social worker can induce physical and psychological symptoms of burnout.
Further, Howe (2004) reported that child welfare social workers are constantly working with complex human behavior in social contexts, which can have a great emotional impact on a social worker, causing their own personal needs to go unmet. High turnover rates and burnout amongst social workers can be attributed to other factors as well. An article written by the authors, Sprang, Craig, and Clark (2011), reported that child welfare social workers who are tasked with interviewing children and adults in which traumatic experiences are recounted; exposure to this on a regular basis has the potential to develop into secondary traumatic stress (STS).
Secondary traumatic stress involves the transfer of trauma related symptoms which are experienced by the trauma survivor, to family members and supportive individuals like therapists and social workers. The key to understanding STS is that it refers to the symptoms caused by at least one indirect exposure to a traumatic event. However, further studies have been shown that it is not exclusively one indirect event that can cause secondary traumatic stress, it can also be a culmination of repeated exposure to incidents (Nelson-Gardell & Harris, 2003). At times, the term Burnout is mistakenly used to describe individuals suffering from STS. This too is incorrect as Burnout is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment from working in an organizational climate that is unsupportive and demanding (Shackelford, & Pryce, 2007). Nevertheless, each term has been used to describe a negative psychological response to the cumulative stress of working with high-risk populations (West, 2015). High turnover rates of child welfare social workers impact social work practice on the micro and macro level. On the micro level, according to an article written by Maslach and Jackson (1981), “the symptoms that lead to burnout in a child welfare social worker can develop deterioration in the quality of care or service that the worker provides to the assigned at-risk families.”
Further, according to an article written by Pryce and Shackelford (2007), children are negatively affected by high turnover rates of social workers as they have to undergo the retelling of their traumatic experiences multiple times and can potentially escalate any attachment and/or trust issues already present. According to Drake and Yadama (1996), families who receive services from social workers who work in agencies that have a stressful work climate are less likely to receive comprehensive and continuous services.” On the macro level, the magnitude of high turnover can affect agency resources, staff morale, and service continuity and quality (Smith, 2005). Child welfare social workers that have an understanding as to the complexities of their role with serving the at-risk families they come into contact with can promote a sense of psychological empowerment (Lee, Weaver, and Hrostowski, 2011).
According to the authors Lee, Weaver, and Hrostowski, “child welfare social workers who feel a high sense of psychological empowerment at work are more likely to have a sense of control and competence, report a sense of ownership when answering questions about their tasks, and experience higher levels of job satisfaction and/or commitment to their organization.” Child welfare social workers that are able to practice self-care practices within the work environment are able to promote a higher quality of health and well-being for themselves. For example, Hook and Rothenberg (2009) stated that healthy coping mechanisms within the work environment to address on the job stressors may include exercising, spending time with families, taking a break from the office, and leaving the office earlier.
In addition, the authors emphasized the importance of the child welfare organizations to provide social workers with manageable workloads and additional support within the workplace (Hook and Rothenberg, 2009). According to Adams (1980), additional effective considerations in self-care practices to prevent occupational burnout in the helping profession include the following: An incorporation of a nutritious diet, regular physical exercise, participation in relaxing activities, being able to separate work from home life, separating oneself from strained personal relationships and maintaining supportive friendships outside the work environment.
The Literature Review developed by the researchers helped provide an understanding as to the chronic issue of turnover rates of social workers within the child welfare field by looking at the alarming statistics of the problem nationwide, the contributing factors that have lead to these rates, and the negative impact that this issue has had on individual workers and the populations that are being served. The Literature Review also discussed the contributing factors to promote solutions to the problem and promote job longevity. As a result, theories derived from the presented research in relation to the research focus.
Two theories that were derived from the researcher’s interpretation of the presented literature review are Multidimensional Theory of Burnout and Organizational Support Theory. According to the Multidimensional Theory of Burn Out, individual stress experience is developed from an individual’s perception of one’s self and others in the context of complex social relationships (Maslach and Jackson, 1981). This can be applied to child welfare social workers’ self-perceptions and their relationships with clients, colleagues, and supervisors. According to this theory, workplace relationships are a source of both emotional strain and reward when coping with job stress (Maslach and Jackson, 1981). The Multidimensional Theory of Burnout describes burnout as “a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job” which includes the three core components of “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment” (Maslach and Jackson, 1981).
The literature review supports that child welfare social workers undergo the prolonged physical and mental symptoms of the components of burnout, which can influence their decision to voluntarily leave their job positions, resulting in poor retention rates for this occupation. One theory derived as a measure to support child welfare social workers is Organizational Support Theory which draws from the idea of mutual exchange between the employee and an agency. “Organizational Support Theory suggests that employees view the caring or uncaring treatment they receive as an indication that the organization favors or disfavors them” (Vardaman, Allen, Otondo, Hancock,Shore, Rogers, 2016, p1485). Mutual exchange within a place of employment is best identified as support. Research suggest that an employee’s response to receiving support is reciprocated in the manner of commitment and dedication to the organization (Vardaman, et. al, 2016). More specifically, support has been shown to be extremely valuable for human service workers when received from their supervisors (Nissly, Mor Barak, Levin (2005). This theory can be implemented to counteract the effects that stress has on child welfare social workers and provide insight to support job retention.
Contribution of study to micro and macro social work practice
This study encourages seasoned child welfare social workers in exploring and identifying their own strengths, support systems, and resources that assist in job longevity. Also, this study has the potential to empower newer child welfare social workers in developing their skill set to include coping with on the job stressors and explore alternative methods to promote health, wellness, and job retention.
CHAPTER TWO: ENGAGEMENT
Chapter two discusses the engagement process of the research study. It discusses the researcher’s self-preparation for this study and addresses diversity, ethical, and political issues that may occur during the development of this study.
In preparation for this study, the researchers have taken the time to think about what paradigm would best guide this research and learn our role as the researchers for the study and chose the research design and method. In addition, the researchers have educated themselves about understanding the contributing factors that deter social workers from continuing to work within the child welfare sector and those that contribute to their longevity through the gathering of literature reviews. In addition, the researchers of this study are both “seasoned” social workers and could reflect on our own experiences as self-preparation.
Further, because of our experience, it was important for the researchers to be aware of personal biases as to the child welfare system and personal experience and knowledge of the varied ways in which case management occurs. Research went into determining the appropriate instrument for obtaining the qualitative data for this study. Prior to its use, it was reviewed to ensure that all the questions were easily understood and open ended to allow for a broad range of answers. The researchers ensured that all measures were in place so that participants would not be harmed in any way during this study.
In doing this type of research it is very important to be aware of the potential differences between ourselves as the researchers and the social workers who are the participants of this study. Issues of diversity that may arise can range from differences in work experience, educational background, gender, ethnicity, spirituality, sexual orientation, physical appearance, verbal articulation, and body language/mannerisms/ gestures.
A potential ethical issue in this Post Positivist study is maintaining confidentiality of the study participants. The researchers ensured the protection of the study participants’ identities from being published or known to others by keeping the participant’s information and interviews in a locked drawer that only the researchers had access to. During the initial introductory interviews with study participants, the researchers explained that their identities would remain confidential. This assisted with having the participants share their experiences without the fear of being identified by their agency of employment and dealing with any repercussions.
The researchers remained sensitive to the fact that this research study is one that engaged current child welfare social workers to explore their role and job responsibilities as a child welfare employee. The questions that were asked, allowed for the social workers to give thought to, and explore their current job satisfaction and any areas of concern about their job. This type of self-exploration has potential to initiate a political issue should any of the participants feel the need to contact their local union to report any of the issues they shared or concerns they may have. This may further impact the child welfare agency or county in which they are a child welfare social worker.
The Role of Technology in Engagement
The role of technology in engagement for this study will be the method in which the researchers use to get the required qualitative data. The following technological devices were used throughout this research study: personal cellular telephones, personal laptops that only the researchers have access to, the Internet, and electronic mail for correspondence with study participants. These technological devices were essential in abetting the communication between all parties involved in the study, gathering related literature on the topic, organizing the gathered data, and writing and publishing of the research study.
Chapter two discussed the engagement process of this research study. Our initial engagement with the participants was crucial in developing trust to obtain truthful disclosures regarding their job as a child welfare social worker. This chapter also discussed the ways in which the researchers prepared for this study and how the issues of diversity, ethical, and political were identified and addressed.
CHAPTER THREE: IMPLEMENTATION
This chapter will discuss the implementation of the research study of the insight into the factors that promote job longevity for child welfare social workers. This chapter discusses in detail as to how the study was carried out which includes the demographics and selection of study participants, the data gathering methods, phases, recording, and data analysis procedures.
The study participants selected for this study were twenty child welfare social workers employed by a government agency within Southern California. In order to be considered “seasoned” the study participants had to be current child welfare social workers with at least five years of work experience. The study participants were interviewed by the researchers as to their demographic information in a form of six questions (see Appendix A). The demographic information of the individual participants is as follows: Of the 20 participants who were interviewed, 16 participants were female and 4 were male. In regards to age, 45% of participants were between the ages of 31-40, 45% were between the ages of 41-50, and 10% were between the ages of 51-60 years.
Out of the 20 study participants, 6 identified themselves as African American, 6 participants identified themselves as Hispanic, 5 participants identified themselves as Caucasian, 2 participants identified themselves as 1 or more ethnicities, and 1 participant declined a response. In regards to educational background, all 20 participants have college degrees that specialize in social behavioral sciences such as: Social Work, Sociology, Psychology, Child Development, and Human Services in which 9 have a Bachelor’s Level Degree and 11 have a Graduate Degree, and 3 are currently in a Graduate program. In reference to years of work experience in the child welfare field, 15% of participants reported having at least 5 years of experience, 55% of participants reported having between 9-12 years of experience, and 25% of participants reported having between 14-18 years of experience.
Selection of Participants
The non-probability sampling technique, Snowball Sampling, was utilized to obtain participants for this study. The participants consisted of twenty social workers employed for five years or more within a child welfare government agency located in Southern California. Snowball Sampling was implemented due to participants meeting the criteria as rare and difficult to locate. The researchers obtained referrals from participants that were known that met the criteria for the study. The researchers then requested the eligible study participants to identify additional participants they know who met the criteria of the study. The recruitment of the study participants were initiated in-person, via telephone, and on the social networking website, Facebook.
The data gathering process for this study began with obtaining related research as to the issue of high turnover rates of child welfare social workers. After the research was gathered, the researchers participated in self-reflection as to their experiences in the child welfare field and explored the question of what factors promote job longevity in this field of work. The next step of data gathering was the development of the theoretical orientation in which two theories were derived, The Multi-Dimensional Theory of Burnout and The Organization Theory. Upon the completion of these steps, the researchers then derived an open-ended questionnaire with the purpose of gathering qualitative data of participants in a naturalistic setting. The researchers incorporated the Solution Focused Approach in the development of the questionnaire to focus on the strengths and previous successes of participants rather than the past problems and failures (Trepper, McCollum, De Jong, Korman, Gingerich, & Franklin, 2008). Upon the development of the questionnaire, additional documents were created such as a demographic form on behalf of the individual participants, an informed consent form, and a debriefing statement.
Phases of data collection
The researchers began the snowball sampling process with known seasoned child welfare social workers that provided referrals of recommendation for other eligible participants of the study. Twenty seasoned child welfare social workers were selected, consented, and participated in the interviewing process in interactions that were face-to-face and by telephone. During the initial interviewing process, the researchers explained in detail about the focus of the study, the interview process, and the implementation of confidentiality between the researchers with all individual participants. The participants were provided with a debriefing statement (see Appendix C) and an informed consent form (see Appendix B), which was signed with an “X” manually or electronically via e-mail.
The researchers interviewed all the study participants with a questionnaire of eleven open-ended questions (see Appendix C) that explored the participants’ strengths, effective solutions of coping with on the job stressors, their current job satisfaction rating, what they feel needs to change to increase overall job satisfaction, and advice for new child welfare social workers. The objective of this study is to develop an insight as to the factors that promote job longevity of seasoned social workers in the child welfare field. Upon these factors being identified, it promoted potential ideas for job retention for less seasoned and new social workers within the child welfare field. Data recording Upon obtaining verbal and written consent from study participants as to being interviewed and recorded, the researchers used an audio recording device to record the interviews of individual participants. These interviews were later transcribed by the researchers in a Word document and saved in a folder dedicated to research on a personal computer database.
Along with these transcripts, the researchers placed the informed consent forms and audio recordings in the research folder and identified individual participants’ recordings as “A-1, A-2, A-3,” etc.in order as interviewed. The researchers ensured that the computer database was password protected in where the researchers were the only ones aware of the password to ensure confidentiality of the study participants. All data artifacts were destroyed upon the completion of this study. During the interviewing process, the researchers demonstrated engagement skills such as active listening, eye contact (during face to face interactions), incorporating non-verbal and minimal encouragers such as stating, “I see,” and “I understand,” etc., being respectful by not interrupting the responses of participants, being polite, showed appreciation for the time and effort the participant put in the interview, and displayed a non-judgmental and genuine demeanor during the interviewing process.
Throughout the interviews, the researchers reminded the participants of the expected timeframe of interviews along with how many questions were on the questionnaire, and what question number they were on in the interview. Upon the last question being answered, the researchers participated in the termination process with the participants and thanked them for taking the time to participate in the interviewing process. All study participants were able to engage and respond to all eleven questions until completion. In addition to the documentation of the individual responses of study participants, the researchers maintained a research journal. Within the journal, the researchers discussed observations that they may have seen and/or heard from individual interviews, discussed similarities and differences, key words that were said, along with the researchers’ reflection and assessment on the information that was provided.
Data Analysis Procedures
Upon the completion of transcripts of the interviews that were gathered, the researchers analyzed the data through the use of open, axial, and selective coding in which several themes were identified. In addition, the researchers examined the demographic background of participants and derived trends of the results.
This chapter focused on the implementation process of the research study to determine what factors promote job longevity for child welfare social workers. The chapter discussed who the study participants were and how they were selected, the use of questionnaires and technological devices to conduct data collection and recording, and the data analysis process of individualized interviews.
CHAPTER FOUR: EVALUATION
This chapter will describe the participants for the study, the way in which we gathered, transcribed, and analyzed the data by putting the information into categories and then into themes. The qualitative data was then analyzed, interpreted, discussed by the researchers, and the implications of the findings for macro and micro practice were provided.
An approach that was used in this study for qualitative data analysis was the “bottom up” approach. According to Glasser and Strauss (1967), the “bottom up” approach uncovers theories from the findings of the data analysis (Morris, in press). In regards to this study, data analysis was initiated by the open coding process in where the researchers were able to break down the interviews into categories based on keywords (Morris, in press). As a result, the researchers were able to recognize recurring themes and identify the relationship between the identified themes by using axial coding. We were then able to filter the major themes down into sub-themes by using selective coding in which a theoretical statement was derived. Lastly, we were able to undergo the process of the conditional matrix, where we compared the developed theory in reference to current and new literature and how it relates to social work practice (Morris, in press).
The chosen study participants consisted of 20 seasoned child welfare social workers that participated in the interviewing process. During the interviewing process, the participants were asked to identify their demographic information. The demographic information of the individual participants is as follows: Of the 20 participants who were interviewed, 16 participants are female and 4 are male. In regards to age, 45% of participants were between the ages of 31-40, 45% were between the ages of 41-50, and 10% were between the ages of 51-60 years. Out of the 20 study participants, 6 identified themselves as African American, 6 participants identified themselves as Hispanic, 5 participants identified themselves as Caucasian, 2 participants identified themselves as 1 or more ethnicities, and 1 participant declined a response.
In regards to educational background, all 20 participants have college degrees that specialize in social behavioral sciences, such as Social Work, Sociology, Psychology, Child Development, and Human Services in which 9 have a Bachelor’s Level Degree and 11 have a Graduate Degree, and 3 are currently in a Graduate program. In reference to years of work experience in the child welfare field, 15% of participants reported having at least 5 years of experience, 55% of participants reported having between 9-12 years of experience, and 25% of participants reported having between 14-18 years of experience.
After the demographic information was identified, the study participants were interviewed and asked 11 open-ended questions that were solution-focused and addressed the factors that promoted job longevity. The findings of the interviews are as follows: In regards to question #1, when participants were asked what they feel is going well with their job, the major responses consisted of receiving support from coworkers, client engagement, communication with supervisors, and personal relationships. For example, a participant stated, “I like the coworkers in my unit, we get along well, and help each other out” (Participant A9, Personal Interview, April 2017). A second participant stated, “My interactions with clients; I feel that my engagement with clients and working with them goes well” (Participant A10, Personal Interview, April 2017). Furthermore, a third participant reported, I think currently I have good communication with my supervisor. I have an awesome supervisor, she is very supportive, we have a good unit to work with, I have one good manager, the management team is improving, my caseload has been really good so far, and it has been a long time since I removed a child (Participant A8, Personal Interview, April 2017).
In regards to question #2, when participants were asked to describe a day when they go into work and everything was going right and there were no issues, the major response reported it to be a day in which there is no crisis on their caseload. For example, a participant stated, No issues would be maybe one or two voice mails, e-mails, you’ll always have a million of emails, but nothing blowing up, no problems with kids in placements, the two voice mails on my phone would be from service providers returning my calls saying how amazing my clients are doing (Participant A1, Personal Interview, March 2017).
A second participant stated the following, “It is quiet, there are no detentions, I’d be working with families giving them what they need instead of detaining kids... giving them whatever they need and it’s a quiet day. No crises” (Participant A4, Personal Interview, March 2017). The researchers found that a minor response amongst the participants was that it was impossible to have a day without issues. For example, a participant stated, I would say that would be a fairy tale because there is never a day where there are no issues. I would say it depends on what someone defines as an issue. In this job, issues are the job and handling issues, so having no issues is like having no job, because that is the job, handling issues (Participant A3, Personal Interview, March 2017).
In regards to question #3, when participants were asked what keeps them motivated to go to work, the major response was that they are making a difference in the lives they serve. For example, one participant stated, “Knowing that I will make a difference for the positive and that my interaction with someone will be beneficial to a child” (Participant A5, Personal Interview, April 2017). Another participant stated, “I am passionate about wanting to make a difference in the lives of children, so even when things are tough I try to focus on that and it usually gets me through any rough spots” (Participant A12, Personal Interview, April 2017).
In addition, another participant responded by saying, “Knowing that the work we do is important and can change lives” (Participant A13, Personal Interview, April 2017). The minor response found amongst the participants that kept them motivated to go to work was found to be due to financial purposes. One participant stated, “A paycheck” (Participant A20, Personal Interview, April 2017). Another participant relayed, “A paycheck is definitely a motivator; having fun at work, enjoying who you’re working with, enjoying what you’re doing, and learning new things” (Participant A3, Personal Interview, March 2017).
In regards to question #4, when participants were asked how they practice self-care in dealing with stressful issues at work, the major response was that they talk with someone at work. For example, one participant stated, The number one thing I personally do is go to my supervisor because she has the ability to de-escalate my feelings of anxiety or stress when a situation is blowing up or when I am feeling overwhelmed. Also talking to some of my favorite coworkers, those are the things I do for self-care”(Participant A1, Personal Interview, March 2017).
Another participant stated, “I go for a walk, process it with my peers, organize, and leave it at work at the end of day” (Participant A11, Personal Interview, April 2017). Furthermore, another participant responded by relaying, “I have a friend at work that I can talk to when I feel stressed out; I also take breaks when I feel overwhelmed and listen to music throughout the day that calms and relaxes me” (Participant A15, Personal Interview, April 2017).
In regards to question #5, when asked what self-care practices were used outside of workplace, the major responses were a physical activity and spending time with family. For example, one participant stated, Sometimes doing things that are active, like running, is therapeutic for me. Doing something active like playing on the softball team, it's nice to be outside doing something active. Playing with my kids, whether it is a board game or outside in the backyard (Participant A4, Personal Interview, April 2017).
Another participant stated, “I go to Zumba three times a week” (Participant A1, Personal Interview, April 2017). Furthermore, another participant responded, “Spend time with my daughter, go for walks, and just relax” (Participant A13, Personal Interview, April 2017). The minor responses that emerged from this question in regards to self-care practices outside of work were, faith based activities and consumption of alcohol. For example, one participant stated, “Spending quality time with family and good friends, regularly attending church, mission trips, prayer, and winery trips” (Participant A13, Personal Interview, April 2017). In addition, another participant said, “Alcohol helps too, after the job is done” (Participant A3, Personal Interview, March 2017).
In regards to question #6, when asked what type of support at work or outside of work is needed to do their job effectively, the major response was having a sense of support from others. For example, one participant stated, Support from our managers, supervisors, colleagues, also from coworkers that have some professional conversations that we can come with in a group. Outside of my job, it's always my brother who is the psychologist, my friends that are medical doctors and lawyers where we sit down and they advise me and help me. Those are my support systems that are professional support, people that I look up to and a positive influence in my life. I always want people around me to reach for the sky and go higher. Society is very competitive, stay in the race (Participant A18, Personal Interview, April 2017).
Another participant stated, I need management/leadership to take the time to understand the work I do so they can make informed decisions when necessary. Outside of work, I truly believe people that are working in child welfare social work need to have some connection to a spiritual power. I believe that my faith is really what made it possible for me to work as a social worker. It is the number one thing I feel is needed to survive child welfare social work” (Participant A12, Personal Interview, April 2017).
Furthermore, a participant reported, I think you need both types of support in order to do the job effectively. In the office, you need the support of your supervisor and managers when you make decisions. We have very difficult decisions to make sometimes and if you don’t have the support from the supervisor and manager it can be very stressful. You also need support from your co-workers because you need to staff cases with them or just vent about a case. Outside of work, you need the support of friends and family. There have been many times where I need to stay late and not able to attend to my family, if there was no support from them, the stress of the job would become unbearable” (Participant A9, Personal Interview, April 2017).
In regards to question #7, when participants were asked how they dealt with the ongoing changes of child welfare practices and laws, the major responses consisted of having a sense of acceptance as to the changes, the desire to be informed and develop an understanding as to the changes, and adapting in making these changes. For example, a participant stated, “I try to gain an understanding as to why practices changes and why laws were put into effect; once I have an understanding, it is easier to apply it into my practice” (Participant A15, Personal Interview, April 2017).
Another participant stated the following, “Try to roll with the changes, keep yourself informed, and embrace what is being brought out (Participant A2, Personal Interview, March 2017). The minor response that evolved from this question in regards to how the participants dealt with the changes that occur at work was by getting stressed. One participant stated the following, “I get stressed because I am never sure if the work I am doing is following the correct policies or best practice methods” (Participant A10, Personal Interview, April 2017).
In regards to question #8, when participants were asked how they would rate their job satisfaction on a scale from 1-10, 1 being not at all and 10 being absolutely love it, all responses were reported with an above average rating in job satisfaction. Out of the 20 study participants, 70% rated their job satisfaction between a 7-8 rating. In regards to what would need to happen to move their rating closer to a 10, a major response was to have a more supportive management team. For example, one study participant stated the following, “Having management that genuinely cares about their workers and who also care about the families and can demonstrate that in their behavior not just their words” (Participant A5, Personal Interview, April 2017).
An additional theme that emerged amongst the participants was the need for higher compensation. In reference to this, a study participant responded, “If there was a yearly raise or pay increase to look forward to” (Participant A14, Personal Interview, April 2017). A minor response that emerged was that the rating could never be a 10. For example, one study participant stated, Even though I do like doing my job, I don’t think I could fully be a 10 because of the added stress that comes with the job. I didn’t start getting grey hairs until I started working here, but that might because of my age. The job has a lot to do with the added stress and decline in physical health because you’re out in the field, you bring your lunch, but you have nowhere to warm it up, or it's stuck in the fridge and you’re out on a call, and you have to figure things out while you’re out there. It does take a toll on you personally, but that’s just the job” (Participant A2, Personal Interview, March 2017).
In regards to question #9, when participants were asked what personal attributes/strengths they felt have helped them maintain their job position, the major responses included having effective interpersonal skills when interacting with clients, being able to collaborate, maintaining a positive outlook, being able to stay calm in stressful situations, ability to adapt to changes, feeling driven to do the work, and being open to professional development. For example, a study participant stated the following, Me being a kind person, loving, nurturing, and understanding. I am an individual that can accept constructive criticism, the good, bad, ugly, and indifferent. I am able to converse back and forth with co-workers and supervisors, seeing that supervisors are not God, I look at them as equals. Being respectful, respect the individual, everyone, no matter who you are, what you do, what position you hold. I am an understanding individual that is always willing to help (Participant A7, Personal Interview, April 2017).
In addition another participant responded with the following, “Positive outlook, flexibility, personable with others, strong writing skills, and learning to work well under pressure” (Participant A10, Personal Interview, April 2017). In regards to question #10, when participants were asked how they have changed the way they do social work now as compared to their first year on the job, two major responses were that their decision making process had evolved and their methods of client engagement improved. In reference to the decision-making process, a study participant responded with the following, I’m definitely thinking longer term. You think your decisions and long-term effects have on people, not just the short-term effects. Being able to better gauge where you’re going to go with a decision based on your experience. Having had similar experiences in the past and what those outcomes were of those experiences you have a better gauge as to pros and cons of your decisions” (Participant A3, Personal Interview, March 2017).
In reference to the improvement in client engagement, a study participant reported, “I proceed a little more with caution now than I did then. I had very little conflict resolution skills then” (Participant A20, Personal Interview, March 2017). In reference to the second part of the question, which asked what practices they still use from when they first started the job, the two major responses were collaboration with co-workers and the implementation of social work values and ethics. As to collaboration, a study participant stated the following, Staffing with co-workers, because you can’t come into this job thinking you’re going to save the world by yourself. Practices with peer relationships and utilizing of networking.
When you first come into this field, you are hearing all the different acronyms and programs where programs come and go and people move somewhere else. But you still have contacts in different programs that can be utilized and used to stabilize a family to not remove kids and knowing service providers is good to know” (Participant A2, Personal Interview, April 2017). As to implementation of social work values and ethics, a study participant shared the following, The only thing I still do is try to be honest with my clients, never try to manipulate them, push them any one way or the other. From the beginning, always being respectful, treat my clients like they are human beings, and take my job seriously, it is not a game (Participant A8, Personal Interview, April 2017).
In regards to question #11, when participants were asked what advice they would give to a new child welfare social worker, the major responses that emerged included; seeking out support systems within the workplace, remain open-minded to learning new things, find a way to separate work and home, maintain standards of respect and integrity when engaging with families, and participate in regular practices of self-care. An example of a response that incorporated all four of these responses is the following, They are not in this alone. Utilize their support systems as far as their supervisors, co-workers, and don’t be afraid to ask questions because that is how you’re going to learn. You’re not always going to have the answers and that is ok. Treat your clients with respect and that will get you a long way. Finding a style that works for you and also maintaining a balance in your lifestyle. This job is easy to get sucked into, you can easily get burned out, so I do think self-care is important and finding a balance to your life in how you’re going to maintain a stressful job but also not putting yourself in all of that (Participant A4, Personal Interview, April 2017).
Another suggestion that was shared by a study participant was, “Be flexible, be open, remain humble, be strong, don’t be afraid of confrontation, be powerful, be transparent, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or make a mistake” (Participant A19, Personal Interview, April 2017). A minor response that emerged suggested that as a new child welfare social worker, they find a spiritual connection to the job. One study participant stated the following, This job is a calling. It's not any job; you have to be called to do this type of work, a ministry. You can't come in here for the money; you have to be called to do this type of work. You can't be messing around. If you do the job, you do it to the best of your ability (Participant A7, Personal Interview, April 2017).
Despite the commonly recognized high turnover rates of child welfare social workers, the findings presented in the Data Analysis demonstrate an overall insight as to what factors have kept seasoned child welfare social workers at their jobs. What was discovered after the completion of the interviews was that a majority of the study participants remain in their jobs because of the support they receive inside and outside of their work environment.
In addition, the participants acknowledged their self-awareness and utilization of their internal traits which contributed to their length of employment. Furthermore, a majority of the study participants were able to identify potential barriers in the workplace and the skills needed for professional development in order to do their job effectively. The study participants were able to reflect upon their work experiences and gather helpful tips to promote ideas for job longevity for new social workers in the field of child welfare.
Further assessment of the data analysis revealed major responses which were categorized into six themes; Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Social Skills, Empathy, and Support. These themes were compared and interpreted with the literature findings and are as follows: Self-Awareness This study discovered that job longevity in seasoned child welfare social workers was in part due to their heightened self-awareness which allowed them to identify with their internal states and assisted them in effectively coping with on the job stressors. This is supported by an article by Dowden, Warren, and Kambui (2014) that states work productivity and well-being can be enhanced with the participation in self-care and self-awareness.
In addition, the participants were able to identify their own effective interpersonal skills when engaging with others, such as effective communication and team work skills that contributed to their ability in forming collaborative relationships with their co-workers and supervisors. Further, having to balance work responsibilities with personal life expectations required that the participants have a good understanding of their emotions and how their emotions can either positively or negatively affect their lives and those around them. In regards to balancing work and personal life, a major response of the participants that supports self-awareness was being involved in self-care practices outside of work, which included spending time with family and participating in various activities. All of the seasoned child welfare social workers that were interviewed rated their overall job satisfaction with above average ratings. It was discovered that the common reason why participants continued in their job position is due to their perceived ability and skill level that they possess which positively impacts the lives of the families that they serve.
In addition, the acceptance of departmental and policy changes by the participants displayed their willingness and ability to continually assess their strengths and weaknesses and improve their skill level within the child welfare field by making the required changes and improvements to enhance their social work practice. Further, all of the study participants had advance level job classifications which supported their inner drive to continue their professional development and advancement.
This study discovered that job longevity in seasoned child welfare social workers was in part due to their ability to self-regulate emotions in crisis and/or stressful situations. This finding is inconsistent with the study of Pines (1982) finding that “the work demands and high responsibility of child welfare social workers can induce physical and psychological symptoms of burnout.” The findings of the literature and the study are inconsistent because the perception of work demands and high responsibility is different. In contrast, the participants of this study have found effective ways of coping with work demands and have changed their way of social work practices in efforts to improve their role of high responsibility.
A common theme that emerged was the ability of seasoned child welfare social workers to cope with the demands of work by consistently self-regulating their emotions and their ability to focus on the value of the work being done with children and families. The participants described their traits and skills which aligned with self-regulation. Such skills were their ability to be calm and level headed when faced with a crisis, having conflict resolution skills, the ability to work well under pressure, not taking things personally, and abiding by social work values and ethics at all times.
Study participants identified their decision-making process as one of the major changes that they made since becoming a child welfare social worker and their first year on the job. A number of the participants were conscientiousness of their decision-making processes and considered the impact of the decisions they made regarding the families they were working with. Participants had described traits of innovation and adaptability in improving their decision-making process and ability to prevent emotions and/or biases from influencing their decisions.
The study found that another factor that has promoted job longevity is the motivation in making a positive difference in the lives of families within the child welfare system. This finding is consistent with Lee, Weaver, and Hrostowski’s study (2011) findings that “Child welfare social workers that have an understanding as to the complexities of their role with serving the at-risk families they come into contact with can promote a sense of psychological empowerment and are more likely to have a sense of control and competence, report a sense of ownership when answering questions about their tasks, and experience higher levels of job satisfaction and/or commitment to their organization.”
The findings of the literature are consistent with the study because it correlates with the study participants’ motivational goals in professional development and making changes in their social work practice for improved client engagement skills. This demonstrates a linkage between competency and job satisfaction. According to Trotter (2002) a child welfare social workers’ use of incorporating effective skills when working with families is likely to be related to positive client outcomes. In addition, participants have demonstrated a level of commitment with their child welfare agencies because their goals to positively impact families are aligned.
The study identified that a factor that has promoted job longevity in seasoned child welfare social workers is the ability to have empathy by recognizing and understand the feelings of others. This finding is consistent with the study of King and Holosko (2012) finding that “empathy is a key skill that is highlighted in most human behavior and development theories geared to educate social workers as to how a productive relationship between the worker and client is developed.” The findings of the literature are consistent with the study because it correlates with the personal attributes of empathy that participants identified with have helped them in the engagement process with families.
Such attributes consist of the following: Being understanding, nurturing, and caring. In addition, being aware of another person’s feelings, concerns, perspectives, and knowing how to appropriately respond, helps social workers recognize the needs of families and develop a change within families in efforts to make a positive difference in their lives.
The final factor that has emerged from the study that contributes to promoting longevity in child welfare social workers is having social skills to communicate effectively with families. The finding is consistent with Furnham’s study (2012) finding that “social skills cover an array of different faucets and is summarized as the adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others.” As to the worker client relationship, the participants have shared having traits and skills of being able to have effective engagement with families through ways of rapport building, demonstrating transparency and honesty, and influencing families in initiating and/or maintain a change for the better.
The final factor that has emerged from the study that contributes to promoting longevity in child welfare social workers is building bonds with co-workers and supervisors within the workplace, and having a support system with others outside of the workplace. This is consistent with Anderson’s (2000) finding that the use of social support within the workplace prevents burn out and contributes to the well-being of child welfare social workers. In addition, the finding is consistent with Mor Barak, Nissly, and Levin’s study (2001) that “social support outside of the work environment can serve as a buffer against the harmful effects of job stress and can reduce turnover rates.”
In reference to on the job support, the findings of the literature and the study are consistent because the participants reported the importance of developing a support system within the workplace that they are able to work as a team with, communicate openly by venting about work stressors with no judgments, and collaborate as to assistance with case management, staffing, and learn new ideas of practice. Many of the participants reported that receiving support from their supervisor as the reason they feel their job is going well and what is needed in order to do their job effectively within the workplace.
The study participants revealed that by having an individual who they consider supportive, either professionally or personally, were a key factor to job longevity. In reference to outside of work support, the findings of the literature and study are also consistent because the majority of the study participants reported to have a healthy support network that consisted of family members, friends and/or a higher power as factors that promote job longevity. In addition, the participants reported to engage in multiple extracurricular practices such as spending free time with their families, participating in physical activities, going to Church, and simply relaxing.
New Theoretical Orientation
A new theory was derived from the data analysis and interpretation, which suggests that the longevity of an individual’s career as a child welfare social worker is contributed, in part, to their emotional intelligence (EI) (Morrison, 2007). This idea was developed from the responses provided by the participants which were classified into the following areas; self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.
Upon completion of the classification, it became evident to the researchers that the responses were associated to emotional intelligence. According to the Bar-On model, emotional intelligence consists of interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills and facilitators that determine how well we understand and express ourselves, understand others and relate with them, and cope with daily demands, challenges and pressures (Furnham, 2012). EI supports that social work practice as a multidisciplinary framework, which requires the knowledge and use of both intra and inter-personal skills. This prospective supports the idea that EI is a potential factor to job longevity for child welfare social workers.
Implications of Findings for Micro and Macro Practice of Social Work
Based on the findings that were presented in the Data Analysis, the researchers have developed recommendations promoting job longevity in the child welfare social work field on a micro and a macro level. At the micro level, the research findings can provide insight to the seasoned child welfare social workers in regards to the traits they possess and how they are linked to emotional intelligence. According to the study’s findings, it was discovered that the factors that have kept seasoned child welfare social workers in their job positions are having strong support systems of supervisors and co-workers within the workplace can help provide a sense of emotional support, offer different styles and perspective of social work practice, and collaboration.
The researchers would recommend that a self-help and/or mutual aid group incorporating the strength based approach and safe environment for group members to exchange their experiences, knowledge, and ideas. The goal of this group would be to provide information and knowledge regarding child welfare practices that seem to work well by peers and can also benefit social workers by including discussions of healthy self-care techniques as well as maintaining emotional boundaries in order to prevent others’ crises to overshadow their own individual needs (Hughes, 1995). In addition, this group would be designed to motivate child welfare social workers in an exploration of new ways of thinking, being, or doing for personal and professional growth. The mutual aid groups can research has shown that the social support of colleagues is a coping strategy that is known to prevent burnout in child welfare social workers, and is known to increase individual social worker’s well-being in the workplace (Anderson, 2000).
In regards to the macro level, an idea to promote job longevity of child welfare social workers is to develop an effective collaborative relationship between management, supervisors, and workers. According to Smith (2005) child welfare studies have identified poor supervision as a key contributing factor in decisions to leave and supportive supervision as a factor in intentions to stay. After reviewing the study’s findings, it was discovered that the greatest contributing factor which increases job satisfaction was a supportive management team. As described by the study participants, a supportive management team was described to provide guidance, open to communication, understanding, and have a genuine care and concern on behalf of the child welfare social workers.
A plan to implement professional development and a supportive work environment for child welfare agencies would be for the executive team to participate in trainings that identify and teach strength based leadership skills and to promote team-oriented and effective collaboration amongst the management team, supervisors, and workers in the field of child welfare.
According to Northouse (2016), the behavioral approach style of leadership has been known to be effective in building a supportive work environment for workers because it involves the leader being dedicated in ensuring that tasks are being achieved to fulfill the goals of the agency along with attending to the workers who are trying to achieve its goals. The participants in the study have demonstrated a level of commitment to their respective child welfare agencies as evidenced by their continued amount of years employed in their job positions as well as their shared passion to meet the goals of the agency. Along with support, this level of commitment that the study participants have is what they expect from their management team.
This chapter analyzed the 20 questionnaires that were completed by child welfare social workers. Each questionnaire had 11 questions which extracted information that provided insight as to how each study participant viewed their job as a child welfare social worker. Each question was categorized and through this process, six themes emerged; support was the most common theme amongst the study participants. This was the most identified theme to occur both at work and in the home. The other five themes that emerged were self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. In addition, this chapter linked the findings to literature and its interpretation led to the development of a theory and suggestions to improve micro and macro social work practice within the field of child welfare.
CHAPTER FIVE: TERMINATION AND FOLLOW UP
This chapter explains the termination phase of this study and the way in which the findings of this study were communicated to the participants and how the dissemination plan was executed.
Termination of study
The termination phase of this study included reviewing the purpose of this study with the study participants and how their feedback was examined to determine the factors of job longevity in the child welfare field. The researchers provided the study participants with the opportunity to ask any questions regarding the study, provide feedback in relation to their experience, and most importantly we thanked them for their time and contribution to the study.
Communicating findings to study site and study participants
The researchers contacted the participants who wanted to receive the results of this study and provided them a one-page summary documenting the following: discussion of the overall theory that was derived from the interviews, the explanation as to why that theory was chosen and best fits this particular research study, the shared factors of job longevity of seasoned child welfare social workers, the needs for change that were expressed, and ideas as to how the study findings can contribute to improving the child welfare social work practice on a micro and a macro level. This research study did not have a participating study site to share the information with.
Ongoing relationship with study participants
The participants of the study received a one page debriefing statement via email upon completion of this study. The researchers also made themselves available to the participants via email if additional follow up is needed. Dissemination Plan The goal of this study is to determine the factors that promoted job longevity for child welfare social workers. The findings of this study were transferred to a one-page informational sheet with clearly defined factors that were found to promote job longevity for child welfare social workers. The researchers of this study are current employees of Riverside County DPSS-Children’s Services Division and permission will be requested to send the informational sheet out to social workers within the division. In effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible, the researchers will request that the one page fact sheet be sent out as an electronic document to the staff within Riverside County Department of Public and Social Services, Children’s Services Division. However, this information is beneficial to all child welfare agencies and social workers across the United States.
The research study on factors that promote job longevity for child welfare workers has been concluded. The participants have received their debriefing statement and the results of the study. A one page informational sheet in electronic form has been provided to Riverside County Children’s Services Division, for dissemination if they so choose. The study and findings will be available for additional parties who are interested in learning the factors that promote job longevity for child welfare social workers.
APPENDIX A: DATA COLLECTION INSTRUMENT(S)
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APPENDIX B: INFORMED CONSENT
Start appendix here
APPENDIX C: DEBRIEFING STATEMENT
Start appendix here
Dowden, A. R., Warren, J. M., & Kambui, H.(2014) Three Tiered Model Toward Improved Self- Awareness and Self-Care. Vistas, (30), 1-11
Anderson, D.G.(2000). Coping strategies and burnout among veteran child protection workers. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24(6), 839–848.
Drake, B., & Yadama, G.N. (1996). A structural equation model of burnout and job exit among child protective workers. Social Work Research, 20(3), 179–187.
Howe, D. (2004) ‘Relating theory to practice’, in M. Davies (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to Social Work, 2nd edn, Oxford, Blackwell, pp. 82 – 7.
Kirst-Ashman, K. K. & Zastrow, C.H. (2004). Understanding human behavior and the social environment. (6th ed). Australia, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, United Kingdom, United States: Thomson Learning, Inc. - Brooks/Cole.
Lee, J., Weaver, C., & Hrostowski, S. (2011). Psychological Empowerment and Child Welfare Worker Outcomes: A Path Analysis. Child & Youth Care Forum, 40(6), 479-497.
Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2, 99–113.
Mulki, J. P., Jaramillo, J. F., & Locander, W. B. (2008). Effect of ethical climate on turnover intention: Linking attitudinal and stress theory. Journal of Business Ethics, 78(4), 559–574.
Mor Barak, M. E., Levin, A., Nissly, J.A., Lane, C.J., Stein-Wood, L. & Wood W.S. (2006). Why do they leave? Modeling child welfare workers’ turnover intentions. Children and Youth Services Review, 28(5), 548–577.
Morris, T. (2006). Research Methods for Four Alternative Paradigms: A Generalist Approach Building Social Work Knowledge. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Pines, A., & Aronson, E. (1988). Career burnout: Causes and cures. New York: Free Press.
Pryce,J. G., Shackelford, K. K., & Pryce, D. H. (2007). Secondary traumatic stress and the child welfare professional. Chicago: Lyceum Books.
Shier, M. L., Graham, J. R., Fukuda, E., Brownlee, K., Kline, T. B., Walji, S., & Novik, N. (2012). Social Workers and Satisfaction with Child Welfare Work: Aspects of Work, Profession, and Personal Life that Contribute to Turnover. Child Welfare, 91(5), 117-138.
Sprang, G., Craig, C., & Clark, J. (2011). Secondary Traumatic Stress and Burnout in Child Welfare Workers: A Comparative Analysis of Occupational Distress Across Professional Groups. Child Welfare, 90(6), 149-168.
Strolin-Goltzman, J., Lawrence, C., Auerbach, C., Caringi, J., Claiborne, N., Lawson, H., & ... MiSeung, S. (2009). Design Teams: A Promising Organizational Intervention for Improving Turnover Rates in the Child Welfare Workforce. Child Welfare, 88(5), 149-168.
U.S. General Accounting Office. (2003). Child Welfare: HHS could play a greater role in helping child welfare agencies to recruit and retain staff. Washington, DC: Author.
Van Hook, M. P., & Rothenberg, M. (2009). Quality of Life and Compassion Satisfaction/Fatigue and Burnout in Child Welfare Workers: A Study of the Child Welfare Workers in Community Based Care Organizations in Central Florida. Social Work & Christianity, 36(1), 36-54.
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