Witnessing resilience: resilience of child protection workers in Queensland

Russ, Erica (2016). Witnessing resilience: resilience of child protection workers in Queensland PhD Thesis, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2016.363

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Author Russ, Erica
Thesis Title Witnessing resilience: resilience of child protection workers in Queensland
School, Centre or Institute School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2016.363
Publication date 2016-06-20
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Debby Lynch
Jill Wilson
Robert Lonne
Total pages 274
Language eng
Subjects 1607 Social Work
160702 Counselling, Welfare and Community Services
160799 Social Work not elsewhere classified
Formatted abstract
Statutory child protection has a reputation for being a crisis-driven, reactive and complex system that responds to the wicked problem of child abuse and neglect. In this context there is evidence of long term workforce issues with recruitment difficulties and high turnover rates. The impact of this work not only at an organisational level but also at an individual level is acknowledged in the literature, with workers being exposed to a range of emotional and psychological challenges. Child protection workers (CPW) commonly face significant adversity such as threats, assaults and high levels of exposure to traumatic material exposing them to both direct and vicarious trauma on an acute, cumulative and chronic basis. Research suggests high rates of burnout and vicarious traumatisation in CPW with resultant effects including individual impacts with consequent impacts on turnover.

Although exposed to chronic and cumulative adversity many CPW continue to operate effectively for extended period in this field. The predominant focus of previous research on the effects of this work context on CPW and the workforce has been aligned with psychopathology focusing on the distress experienced and the negative impacts.

Resilience is considered to be a normal and more likely outcome for the majority of individuals following an adverse experience. While resilience is a concept which is consistently considered in the field of child protection where it relates to children, little consideration has been given to the resilience of CPW. Resilient CPW are likely to continue in the field for extended periods and provide effective services. This indicates there is benefit in examining the resilience of CPW. Given the limited research on worker resilience, particularly in the field of child protection, there is benefit in seeking to better understand the experiences of CPW as it relates to the development and maintenance of their resilience.

Drawing on social constructionism as a theoretical framework, this study explored the understandings and experiences of resilience for CPW. The study considered how frontline CPW, who self-identified as resilient, understood their own resilience, the resilience of other staff, and the contributors to resilience in this adverse context. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with CPW on two occasions over a period of approximately thirteen months using a reflective approach to gain a deeper understanding of resilience and what affects resilience in this difficult work environment.

The understanding of how CPW perceive and experience resilience gained through the study provides insights into how they develop and maintain an ability to work effectively when challenged with ongoing traumatic exposure. The study builds on the understanding of the process of resilience and poses a theoretical model that enhances current understandings of resilience. Although there are limitations to the generalisability of the findings due to the qualitative methodology and sample size, this study provides insights of significance to individuals, supervisors, educators and organisations seeking to enhance resilience of CPW, effect improved practice outcomes and reduce turnover.
Keyword Resilience
Child protection
Child Protection Workers

Document type: Thesis
Collections: UQ Theses (RHD) - Official
UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
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Created: Mon, 13 Jun 2016, 01:13:50 EST by Erica Russ on behalf of Learning and Research Services (UQ Library)