Secondary traumatic stress and burnout in child welfare workers: a comparative analysis of occupational distress across professional groups

Child Welfare. 2011;90(6):149-68.


This study describes predictors of secondary traumatic stress and burnout in a national sample of helping professionals, with a specific focus on the unique responses of child welfare (CW) workers. Specific worker and exposure characteristics are examined as possible predictors of these forms of occupational distress in a sample of 669 professionals from across the country who responded to mailed (e-mail and post) invitations to participate in an online survey. E-mail and home mailing addresses were secured from licensure boards and professional membership organizations in six states from across the country that had high rates of child related deaths in 2009. Respondents completed the Professional Quality of Life IV (Stamm, 2005) to ascertain compassion fatigue (CF) and burnout symptoms. Being male, young, Hispanic, holding rural residence, and endorsing a lack of religious participation were significant predictors of secondary traumatic stress. Similarly, being male and young predicted high burnout rates, while actively participating in religious services predicted lower burnout. CW worker job status as a professional was significantly more likely to predict CF and burnout compared to all other types of behavioral healthcare professionals. Based on the findings from this study, this paper proposes strategies for enhancing self-care for CW workers, and describes the essential elements of a trauma-informed CW agency that addresses secondary traumatic stress and burnout.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Asian Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Burnout, Professional / ethnology
  • Burnout, Professional / etiology*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Welfare / classification
  • Child Welfare / ethnology
  • Child Welfare / psychology*
  • Female
  • Helping Behavior
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Religion
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Traumatic / ethnology
  • Stress Disorders, Traumatic / etiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Traumatic / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Whites / statistics & numerical data