Dr Fiona Oates is an experienced, social work trained, child protection practitioner, consultant, educator and researcher with expertise working in urban and rural settings. Fiona has a passion for supporting the mental health and wellbeing of practitioners working in trauma-laden environments. Fiona is committed to contributing toward addressing the disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families in the child protection system. Fiona is based in Cairns, Far North Queensland.
You are not allowed to tell: organisational culture a barrier for child protection worker well-being (Oral Paper Presentation)
Child protection work is one of the most difficult and complex areas of human services practice. Working within a trauma-laden environment often means that practitioner susceptibility to trauma-related mental health issues is an occupational hazard. However, many practitioners are reluctant to seek support from their line supervisors when they start to experience traumatic stress symptomatology.
This paper considers current literature relating to child protection workers’ exposure to work-related traumatic material, resulting traumatic stress symptomatology and organisational responses to practitioner distress. Results from a recent doctoral study which explores the experiences of child protection practitioners based in Queensland will be presented. Findings from the study were derived from qualitative in-depth, semi-structured interviews.
The study found that child protection practitioners experience substantial trauma as a result of working in a trauma-laden environment, the effects of which last after they have left their positions in statutory child protection agencies. In addition, practitioners described negative responses from their organisation to be as significant as, or more significant than, the original source of work-related trauma that preceded their ill health. Also found was practitioner reluctance to seek support, due to an entrenched organisational culture of isolation and rejection of those who exhibit symptoms of traumatic stress.