Canadian Association of Social Workers Releases Major Research on Social Workers and Child Welfare

Ottawa, ON – August 16, 2018 – Today, the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) publishes major research on social workers in child welfare positions across Canada. The paper, titled Understanding Social Work and Child Welfare: Canadian Survey and Interviews with Child Welfare Experts, also paints a picture of child welfare systems in each province and territory, including information relating to different jurisdictions’ efforts towards reconciliation.

“We launched this project because we had so many stories, so much anecdotal evidence, about the issues surrounding child welfare in our country,” said CASW President, Jan Christianson-Wood. “Not only the reports of burnout, PTSD, and huge caseloads impacting social workers’ practice, but also about critical system issues contributing to situations such as the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care.”

The research took two main forms: a nation-wide, bilingual survey completed by more than 3200 social workers, as well as interviews with child-welfare leaders and experts from different jurisdictions.

 “The research is incredibly powerful – both in confirming some of our assumptions about the profession, as well as revealing some surprises,” noted Christianson-Wood. “For instance, there’s this impression that it’s hard to retain employees in child welfare positions, or that social workers only work in child welfare at the beginning of their careers – but our research found over 60% of social workers in child welfare positions have over 10 years of experience in the field.”

Some of the other most salient statistics revealed include: 75% of social workers report that unmanageable workloads are a critical issue in their practice; 44% have experienced threats or violence on the job; 45% of social workers who left the field did so due to stress and/or vicarious trauma and; 72% say administrative responsibilities prevent them from spending adequate time with clients. 

“We see this research as a critical first step,” said Christianson-Wood, “for the first time, we have a bird’s eye view of the profession in child welfare across Canada, and this research has revealed important areas for advocacy: both for our own profession, in terms of encouraging better supports, addressing caseloads and the growing experiences of PTSD and vicarious trauma; and for Canadian society, in terms of demanding the immediate equal funding for Indigenous children and families, and advocating for systems that best support families to stay intact.”

The data produced by this project is both troubling and uplifting, but most of all provides an important stepping stone to future research and advocacy. “We also hope this research helps inspire pride in the profession – both from the public and from social workers themselves,” concluded Christianson-Wood, “and with 88% of social workers reporting that their colleagues are their greatest sources of support, it’s so important we celebrate the amazing work we do while acknowledging the next steps toward a better future for all Canadian families.”