Featured News Child protection workers traumatised

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Wed, 29 May 2019

Child protection workers traumatised

Image: Sandy Millar

A James Cook University study of child protection workers across Queensland has found they commonly suffer traumatic stress and face many barriers to seeking help.

JCU’s Dr Fiona Oates interviewed experienced child protection staff from across Queensland.

“Many described being exposed to traumatic material and events, including exposure to physical, psychological and sexual harm of children and the constant threat of violence from the children’s parents and family members,” Dr Oates said.

Workers also described experiencing bullying, harassment and rejection from within their organisation.

Workers who sought help for traumatic stress were belittled, intimidated, told they were incompetent, and in one instance physically assaulted by a line supervisor.  Others said that they did not seek help at all for fear of adverse responses from line managers including being labelled as not suitable for child protection work.

Dr Oates said that a supportive response from organisations that acknowledges distress as a normal reaction to working in a traumatic environment is critical for a positive outcome.

“One participant described having her distress acknowledged, being provided with options for time away from her work and feeling that the supervisor had a genuine interest in her well-being. She said that the supportive response contributed to her traumatic stress symptoms resolving and being able to continue on in her position.”

She said that was how the system was supposed to support practitioners, but her research indicated that often this does not happen.

“I recommend child protection agencies partner with academic networks to increase the awareness of traumatic stress and how organisations that deal with trauma can better support their workforce,” Dr Oates said.


Dr Fiona Oates
E: Fiona.Oates@jcu.edu.au