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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Striking balance, enjoying challenge : how social workers in child protection stay on the high wire Nordick, Wendy Gale


Social work scholars have documented the vicarious trauma, burnout and compassion fatigue experienced by social workers involved with abused children with the attendant effects of high absenteeism and worker turnover. However, a mysterious phenomenon exists in child protection. Certain workers not only avoid burnout and survive in their jobs, they thrive. The purpose of this thesis is to describe exploratory research findings, which begin to explain how some career child protection workers avoid burnout, survive and thrive in a chaotic system. The author, using grounded theory methods, reviews the literature and describes the interviews of six "healthy" child protection workers who defy the stress of their work. The research also describes the interviews of two workers who had succumbed to stress. It is discovered from the data that child protection workers balance on a high wire of challenge and like it! Ten sub-processes describe how this balance is achieved despite the difficult work. Risk factors and warning signs threaten their balance, but workers apply two additional processes to steady their balance. In addition, a rare occupational gift is revealed; these career child protection workers love their labour and provide a labour of love. This study has limitations. As a result, only a tentative discussion on policy implications for educators, supervisors, administrators and practitioners is presented. This discussion explores factors that may contribute to decreased absenteeism, increased job satisfaction and perhaps most important, better service to children and families.

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