Masters Thesis

Secondary trauma, worker safety, and staff retention in frontier child welfare: focus group and agency recommendations

Social workers in child welfare often are exposed to children and families dealing with complex and traumatic issues at points of crisis. Child welfare workers regularly are exposed to clients experiencing trauma due to a variety of issues, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, assault, poverty, and substance abuse. The effects of regular exposure to crisis and trauma can be far reaching, and child welfare agencies experience extraordinarily high rates of staff turnover and "burnout," and this can often be directly co-related to the negative effects of chronic exposure to trauma, or secondary trauma. In addition to exposure to client trauma, child welfare workers often face unique events that may be considered direct trauma, including threats to safety and workplace violence. Child welfare workers in a rural setting face unique challenges related to secondary trauma, burnout, and worker safety. The need for education and ongoing support for child welfare social workers around identifying signs of secondary trauma and practicing self-care is crucial, and in rural communities with limited external resources, public child welfare agencies must examine how to allocate internal resources and build emotional and psychological supports for social workers into agency structure. The aim of this master’s project is to solicit input from current social workers in a rural child welfare agency to assist in developing and implementing a staff training related to secondary trauma and self-care that can be built into the internal agency infrastructure. A focus group will assist in empowering social workers to discuss and express their needs, and the qualitative data gained from this focus group will serve as a preliminary needs assessment to address current staff training needs, policies and procedures, and assist in the development of trauma informed agency practices which support staff retention and job satisfaction.