Masters Thesis

Secondary trauma with Tuolumne County social workers

Child welfare social workers are at the forefront of the struggle against the problem of child maltreatment and as a result are often affected by secondary trauma. The purpose of this study was to explore the effectiveness of organizational supports and resources for CPS social workers who experience secondary traumatic stress (STS). This study utilized a qualitative exploratory approach. Purposive nonprobability sampling was used due to the specific focus of this study. A face-to-face interview was conducted with seven participants from Tuolumne County Child Welfare Services Agency. Participants’ employment ranged from less than two years to ten or more years. Data was organized into themes using Neuman’s five-stage process that involved sorting and classifying, open coding, axial coding, selective coding, interpreting, and elaborating the data. A major finding from this study was that the majority of participants were unaware of the supports are offered though the agency. Another major finding was that participants described a lack of agency support and recognition of STS at the administrative level. A second major finding was that participants who were aware of supports identified and discussed the ineffectiveness of four supports available to assist them in addressing STS: counseling through Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), peer support, supervisory support, and occasional educational training. Another major finding was that CPS social workers recommended that on-site support be provided to assist workers who are experiencing STS. Results showed that effective supervision was the most commonly accessed formal support by CPS social workers to address the experiences of STS. The second type of support participants noted was the effectiveness of informal support provided by colleagues. Outcomes presented that CPS workers preferred accessing informal collegial support over formal supports, such as EAP. The current findings suggest that organizations should promote awareness and acceptance of CPS social workers experiencing STS. Effective formal supports need to be provided to assist workers in addressing STS.