Federation Research Bulletin: July 2019

This month’s research bulletin includes articles and reports about child protection work, community-based child welfare supports, rural and remote social service delivery, social worker workloads, compliance, and the development of PTSD in youth. It includes the following articles and summaries:

1. Social workers’ views on community involvement in child protection work in Italy (2019)
2. Social Service Delivery in Two Rural Counties (2019)
3. Authors of accountability: Paperwork and social work in contemporary child welfare practice (2017)
4. A core role for cognitive processes in the acute onset and maintenance of post‐traumatic stress in children and adolescents (2019)

For more information, additional research, and/or if you have feedback about how we can make this member service more useful, please contact The Federation’s Research and Policy Coordinator, Pam Alcorn at pam@fcssbc.ca.

1. Social workers’ views on community involvement in child protection work in Italy

This report summarizes a pilot project in Italy that examined community involvement in child protection work through the experiences of 24 child protection workers. The authors explore the factors that influence the ability of social workers to involve a child’s community and the reasons why a community‐based approach (that directly involves local institutions and policies) is important.

Though the socio-political systems in Italy are somewhat different from those in Canada, the implications in this article should resonate with BC’s social services sector in terms of the value of community relationships, the impact of diverse community organizations, and challenges faced by social workers.

The majority of the social workers who participated in the pilot project described a child welfare system in crisis where people are increasingly pressured to find new ways to respond while working within formalized and bureaucratic structures.

However, the authors also identify key factors that can engender more community-involved child protection work such as specific training on community engagement practices and organizational shifts that acknowledge and allow creativity within strict legislative and structural contexts.

2. Social Service Delivery in Two Rural Counties

This short research brief highlights both common and unique issues faced by service providers in two US rural communities trying to support vulnerable people facing challenges.

At the same time, the authors explore the struggles faced by community social services organizations in rural areas (program funding shortages, little program flexibility, long wait lists, high fuel costs, long commutes to reach clients) and the needs of the people they serve living and working in rural communities (low wages, seasonal or resource-based work with irregular hours, transportation barriers, child care scarcity).

This article will be relevant for BC service providers as it compares two different approaches to community-based collaboration (one more successful than the other) and offers evidence underlining the importance of community-based service creation and delivery.

3. Authors of accountability: Paperwork and social work in contemporary child welfare practice

This analysis drew from a study in which child welfare professionals in the US were interviewed about their relationship to “well-being” and the things that promote or prevent well-being in their daily practices. Participants consistently identified that the practices they consider essential to promoting well-being are often constrained by system-wide efforts to ensure compliance with child welfare mandates.

During in-depth interviews with 28 child welfare professionals in a large Midwestern city, casework was described as having two key dimensions: social work (he work of building strengths-based relationships with clients) and paperwork (requirements to document practices to ensure compliance).

The authors explore the kinds of accountability paperwork enables and how these forms of bureaucratic authorship relate to other forms of communication and relationship-building in contemporary child welfare systems. For example, what is the “tipping point” at which the amount of paperwork impedes the overall goal of the system (promoting child and family well-being)? How can paperwork and accountability needs be reimagined to enhance social workers’ ability to develop and maintain relationships?

This research is very relevant for our sector as it frames and explores a tension inherent in child welfare systems which are designed to be both “people-changing” (legal and social mandates) and “people-processing” (legally accountable for moving children and families through the systems). It also reiterates a number of themes in a recent Tyee article about the experience of BC social workers.

4. A core role for cognitive processes in the acute onset and maintenance of post‐traumatic stress in children and adolescents

This article summarizes a longitudinal study about the cognitive processes that occur during the development of PTSD in youth aged 8-17 following a traumatic event. The authors explore why and how some trauma‐exposed youth go on to have persistent PTSD while others who initially have a severe traumatic stress response later experience a natural recovery.

Perhaps the most notable finding was that the presence of negative appraisals of the trauma and its consequences disrupted the recovery process. In terms of clinical implications, this suggests targeting negative appraisals in the psychological prevention and treatment of PTSD in youth.

A further implication is the need to recognize and address ruminative thinking styles in youth affected by trauma, rather than assuming that the sole cognitive style adopted by youth is avoidance. Some youth work very hard to make sense of their trauma, but this article suggests that such efforts may be counterproductive or futile. As such, the youth may need greater support when attempting to process their experiences and help to regulate the time they allocate to such processing.

These admittedly “novel” findings provide a cautionary tale for practitioners when it comes to the cognitive processing of traumatic events (as well as the use of interventions and screening tools) and suggest further investigation into the “avoidance” component of PTSD is warranted.