Secondary Traumatic Stress Of Child Welfare Workers: A Qualitative Investigation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Donald Carter


Child Abuse;Child Welfare;Child Welfare Workers;Secondary Trauma;Supervisors;Trauma


According to many researchers, ongoing exposure to the trauma of others may place child welfare workers at risk for developing symptoms of secondary traumatic stress. This exploratory study used a qualitative interview method in order to investigate the question of whether or not these child welfare workers were experiencing secondary traumatic stress as a result of their work with abused and neglected children. Sixteen child welfare workers from three upstate New York counties participated in an open-ended interview in order to provide an understanding of their work-related experiences. Interviews were transcribed using Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software and the transcriptions were analyzed using NVivo 9, a qualitative data analysis software package. Three central themes regarding the child welfare worker's experiences emerged from the data: the unpredictability of child welfare work, the effects of their relationships with clients, peers and supervisors, and the physical and emotional consequences of child welfare work. Child welfare workers reported experiencing symptoms of secondary traumatic stress, although this stress was not primarily due to their exposure to child abuse and neglect. While interviewees reported that their exposure to abused and neglected children did have a deleterious impact on them, the data also indicated that fear of blame, inconsistent messages and lack of support from supervisors and administrators superseded the effects of exposure to child abuse and neglect. According to the informants, these experiences led to the development of symptoms of secondary traumatic stress. Recommendations for education and training regarding the impact secondary traumatic stress on child welfare workers is suggested for administrators, supervisors and child welfare workers. Furthermore, an examination of the process of recruitment and training supervisors, and providing ongoing support for both child welfare workers and supervisors, is discussed.


SURFACE provides description only. Full text may be available to ProQuest subscribers. Please ask your Librarian for assistance.

This document is currently not available here.