Promoting the Resilience of Child Protection Social Workers

Project Team

Dr Elmien Truter and Prof. Ansie Fouché


Worldwide children in need of care and protection are protected by a specific group of social workers, namely child protection social workers (CPSWs). These social workers are frequently confronted with the duty of removing maltreated children from the care of abusive/neglectful caregivers. Furthermore, they are tasked with investigating alternative placements for such children and to empower families with the needed skills to work towards reunification (if it is in the best interest of the child concerned). In this process, CPSWs are often subjected to different forms of adversity such as violent and aggressive clients; hostile community members; demanding caseloads; aggressive lawyers; a lack of resources and financial support; political interference; a lack of autonomy and daunting court proceedings. Prolonged exposure to such working conditions might ultimately lead to negative outcomes for CPSWs, such as burnout, compassion fatigue, depression and high attrition rates. Subsequently, vulnerable children may not receive the services they urgently need. There are however many CPSWs who adjust positively to these hostile working conditions. Their ability to “bounce back” is called resilience.

As registered social workers and social work academics, Dr Elmien Truter and Prof. Ansie Fouché have been interested in finding out what the resilience of CPSWs entail. After conducting a meta-synthesis we found that CPSWs worldwide are no strangers to adversity; that this profession is indeed a risk-laden profession which lead to numerous negative outcomes for CPSWs. We embarked on a qualitative exploratory study, exploring the reported adversities and resilience processes of CPSWs in South Africa. We plan to ultimately amend our existing resilience promoting guidelines for CPSW supervisors and to transform these into a strengths-based intervention programme aimed at empowering CPSW supervisors with the necessary skills and knowledge, to foster resilience in their CPSWs. We also plan to address consultants in governmental positions, with our research findings, to draw their attention to the detrimental position of CPSWs, so as to cultivate a supportive working relationship with parliament to better support the front line workers in the field of child protection in South Africa.