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Study finds doing child protection social work can harm health

Child protection social workers in Ruth Neil's study reported sleep issues and other problems related to their work. Photo courtesy of the Guardian.

Child protection social workers in Ruth Neil’s study reported sleep issues and other problems related to their work. Photo courtesy of the Guardian.

Researcher Ruth Neil interviewed 12 social workers in Scotland who handled child protection cases to see how such stressful work affected them, according to this article in The Guardian.

All of the social workers told Neil their work impacted their lives in negative ways. Some lost sleep, had a poor diet because they had to work late and missed meals, or had relationship issues.

Social workers also said particular cases of child abuse and neglect haunted them, sometimes for years.

The social workers said having peer support and effective managers helped them handle the stress of their job.

And when asked why they stayed in a difficult profession that is often criticized in the press, the social workers said they were committed to “prioritizing the needs of children” and were encouraged when clients reported their lives had improved.

The National Association of Social Workers publication “Self-Care in Social Work: A Guide for Practitioners, Supervisors, and Administrators” ($32.99, NASW Press) offers guidance on how social workers and their organizations can relieve stressors that hinder the work of social workers.

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  1. Horrendous child abuse cases are an unfortunate reality of contemporary life. A 3- or 4-year-old is found battered or dead. It turns out that neighbors had complained and Child Protective Services had been involved and, inevitably, blame is directed at cases workers. They should have known. They should have removed the child from the home. The DeShaney case, dealing with the liability of social workers in such circumstances, yielded a decision unsatisfactory to everyone, saying, in effect, that case workers are not liable unless their actions place the child in danger. In other words, there might be liability if a child is injured in a foster home , but not if beaten by parents, even if case workers know the parental home is dangerous. POOR JOSHUA (SUNY Press, August 2018) deals with the DeShaney case and in the words of Linda Greenhouse, formerly New York Times legal reporter, “….turns a Supreme Court case into a gripping narrative, placing it within the context of the dilemma over how society and the law should respond to child abuse. It is also a call to arms: an indictment of the status quo and an advocacy piece that urges a profound reconsideration of the outcome of the case and the duty of the state toward those whom it leaves in positions of danger. It’s an important story, well told.”

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