Child welfare professionals are susceptible to burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress. It is important to recognize that some sources link these experiences as the same. While they are interrelated and often have similar symptoms, understanding their distinctiveness can be key to identifying and proposing solutions to address them. Burnout refers to a state of physical, mental, and/or emotional exhaustion caused by excessive or prolonged stress. It can lead to a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. Compassion fatigue refers to the physical and mental exhaustion and emotional withdrawal experienced over an extended period of time by those in the helping professions. It can lead to apathy or indifference toward the suffering of others. In contrast, compassion satisfaction is the fulfillment experienced from helping others. Secondary traumatic stress can occur when a professional experiences high stress or symptoms of trauma that mimic posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms when working with people who have experienced trauma. The following resources expand upon these definitions, address the challenges professionals face considering them, and present possible solutions.
Beyond Quick Fixes: What Will It Really Take to Improve Child Welfare in America? Paper Two: Caseworkers Are First Responders. They Deserve the Same Professionalization as Other Essential Personnel (PDF - 323 KB)
Public Consulting Group, Inc.
Explores the current status of child protection services in the United States and proposes to address its challenges, emphasizing the importance of the child welfare caseworker while making the case for further professionalization of caseworkers. Recommendations to elevate caseworkers to the status and comparable benefits of other first responders are made, with relief for secondary traumatic stress being one of those benefits.
Positive Psychology and Well-Being of Child Welfare Workers: Three Part Series [Video]
Krentzman & Tinetti (2016)
University of Minnesota, Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare
Trains child welfare workers on understanding and implementing strategies to reduce burnout and compassion fatigue through a three-part, well-being-focused video series.
Predictors of Compassion Fatigue in Mental Health Professionals: A Narrative Review
Turgoose & Maddox (2017)
Highlights psychosocial factors that are related to compassion fatigue and protective factors that mitigate its effect. Factors were determined from examining 32 studies on compassion fatigue in mental health professionals. Some of the commonly associated factors related to compassion fatigue were trauma history of the professional and empathy, while protective factors found were behavioral and cognitive coping styles and mindfulness.
Professional Quality of Life Measure: ProQOL.org
ProQOL Office of the Center for Victims of Torture
Provides theory, information, tools, and presentation aids on burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue. Particularly notable is the free ProQOL Scale (PDF - 268 KB) and tools that can be self-administered or used during a training or staff meeting to measure the normal positive and negative effects of helping others, categorized into compassion satisfaction, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress scales. The scale is available in 26 languages.
Staff Performance and Retention: Using a Trauma Lens [Webinar]
The Family and Children’s Resource Program (2015)
Discusses the differences between secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout and their impact on the child welfare workforce and ultimately the children and families they serve. Care is taken throughout the webinar to highlight the prevalence and normalcy of compassion fatigue in helping professionals. Strategies on how to reduce secondary traumatic stress in the workforce from an individual and organizational level. View the handouts, including the presentation slides from the webinar. (PDF -1,608 KB).
Stress and the Child Welfare Workforce: Recognizing Signs of Secondary Traumatic Stress
Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (2018)
Discusses types of stressors child welfare workers are exposed to and their impact on workers going into “survival mode.” Physical, emotional, cognitive, and social symptoms of survival mode are described for workers and supervisors in order to increase their awareness and monitoring of them.
Trauma-Informed Systems of Care: The Role of Organizational Culture in the Development of Burnout, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Compassion Satisfaction (PDF - 350 KB)
Journal of Social Welfare and Human Rights, 3(2)
Identifies specific organizational characteristics that contribute to compassion fatigue or compassion satisfaction, including organizational support and trauma-informed caregiver development.
Help Others for a Living? Here Are 5 Ways to Care for Yourself So You Can Care for Others
HuffPost LIFE Blog
Discusses the impact burnout can have on helping professionals, including social workers, and proposes self-care as a practice to improve burnout rates. Five specific self-care strategies are highlighted, including staying hydrated, sleeping well, eating well, winding down, and saying no.
‘I'm So Stressed!’: A Longitudinal Model of Stress, Burnout and Engagement Among Social Workers in Child Welfare Settings
Travis, Lizano, & Mor Borak (2015)
British Journal of Social Work, 46(4)
Discusses a longitudinal study on a conceptual model demonstrating the impact of job stressors and burnout on employee disengagement among urban U.S. child welfare workers and supervisors. Three notable factors that influenced worker withdrawal and the desire to leave their job were work-family conflict, role ambiguity, and role conflict. Implications for the field are discussed.
The Influence of Transformational Leadership and Job Burnout on Child Protective Services Case Managers' Commitment and Intent to Quit
Rittschof & Fortunato (2015)
Journal of Social Service Research, 42(3)
Shares the impact that transformational leadership has on job burnout and job attitudes of child protective services managers. Job burnout and transformational leadership are defined, and theories behind the framework guiding the research study are discussed. Due to the research findings, hiring transformational leaders is encouraged as an avenue to reduce burnout of child welfare workers.