Caring for our frontline child protection workforce

Caring for our frontline child protection workforce

Kerry Lewig and Sara McLean

CFCA Paper No. 42 — December 2016
Team Huddle Harmony Togetherness Happiness Concept

Key messages

Occupational health literature is increasingly informed by the positive psychology movement.

Rather than focusing on deficits, positive psychology focuses on building personal attributes such as hope, optimism and efficacy.

Three emerging concepts offer guidance for building personal attributes and wellbeing: "work engagement" (i.e., an emotional state of being dedicated to, absorbed in and energised by one’s work); "positive organisational behaviour" (i.e., the positive personal attributes that a person brings to their work); and "psychosocial safety climate" (i.e., employee perceptions of the priority given to psychological health and safety within their organisation).

The evidence linking these concepts to workforce wellbeing is promising, suggesting the benefit of strengthening the role of positive psychology in the child protection workforce.

This paper identifies some of the promising strategies for improving psychological wellbeing in the workplace.

Frontline child protection work is highly stressful, emotionally taxing and, at times, can result in secondary trauma. Additionally, statutory child protection organisations consistently experience high turnover and staff shortages, creating adverse workplace cultures and extra stress for their workforce. Consequently, there is a growing recognition of the need to develop organisational strategies to foster the wellbeing of the frontline child protection workforce. The aim of this paper is to offer some guidance to the management of child protection and related services by drawing on occupational health literature.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Dr Kerry Lewig is a senior researcher and project manager at the Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia. She has researched and published in the areas of research use in child protection practice and policy, both within Australia and Internationally, and in the factors influencing program implementation and dissemination in child and family welfare. Dr Lewig is a registered psychologist and holds a Master’s degree in Organisational Psychology. Her recent PhD explored the role played by organisational and personal factors in the retention and wellbeing of Australian frontline child protection workers.

Dr Sara McLean is a registered psychologist and Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Child Protection. She has a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and has been working in the area of child and adolescent mental health since 1997. Sara has expertise regarding the psychological issues associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and the needs of children with challenging behaviour living in foster and residential care. Sara was recently awarded the inaugural ACU Linacre Fellowship at Oxford University in recognition of her work supporting children in care.

The authors wish to acknowledge the following people for their valuable feedback: Belinda Mawhinney, Co-ordinator, Child Wellbeing & Clinical Projects, Child Protection, Sydney Local Health District, and Dr Catherine Esposito, Principal Research Officer, Office of the Senior Practitioner, Department of Family and Community Services.

Feature image: © istockphoto / Rawpixel

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 42
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2016.
16 pp.
Suggested citation:

Lewig, K., & McLean, S. (2016). Caring for our frontline child protection workforce (CFCA Paper No. 42). Melbourne: Child Family Community Australia information exchange, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Publication meta

Download Publication

Need some help?

CFCA offers a free research and information helpdesk for child, family and community welfare practitioners, service providers, researchers and policy makers through the CFCA News.