Resilience, which is defined as the capacity to recover from difficulties, is a vital tool in building a strong child welfare system, but what does that really mean? It is easy to say that resiliency is important, but effectively utilizing systems and tools for children and families as well as the employees who serve them is a different challenge. Through the latest research, we know resilience is made up of many different factors, from one’s genetics to their environment and support network. How can Social Services prioritize and promote such an ambiguous yet crucial purpose for everyone in the system?
Scotty Knight, a foster care worker who has a history working in foster care and mental health and is now a QA/Trainer for Rockingham DSS was interviewed for this blog. Scotty studied resilience while obtaining her MSW and reinforces the importance of agencies promoting resiliency for their employees. Resilience starts the day an employee is hired through the agency’s preparation. What is the internal environment and culture like? Does the staff have access to the resources they need to be successful? Do the caseloads allow for appropriate time with each child? By allowing the employees an opportunity to be trained properly, they will gain the needed confidence to build resilience. Beyond that, it also increases trust between the employee and employer. This process starts before the employee ever steps foot in the building and will last throughout their entire partnership with the agency. Remarkably, developing a resiliency-focused agency does not always need to add to any budget; having a supportive network of peers and coworkers is invaluable to one’s resiliency factors.
The road to resiliency is a multi-faceted, individualized process which requires fine-tuning and care throughout one’s entire life. Child Welfare is a unique field to be a part of when working to foster and build resilience within staff members due to the potentially traumatic nature of the work. Social workers are exposed to both primary and secondary trauma—from reading reports to being exposed to an abusive family member, their days are filled with adverse situations. As individuals and employees, each person responds differently to adversity and thus needs an individualized plan. Staff members who are struggling within their positions may find themselves in dangerous situations and those may lead to procrastination, compassion fatigue, and burn out.. Those same employees, having resiliency skills, can recognize these signs and symptoms early on and “bounce back” from challenging circumstances.
The child welfare system requires a significant amount of collaboration, communication, and partnership on various levels across the differing but interwoven child and family systems. From schools, extended family members, and housing networks to doctors and therapists, the list of partners changes with every case and situation. By developing a resilient team of social workers, partnerships between agencies and families will be stronger, which will in turn be more beneficial to the child welfare system. Multi-system partnership requires trust, something that simply cannot be obtained without resilient staff. Staff members who are struggling with resiliency are more likely to struggle with believing in the importance of their work, and therefore may be less able to fully trust other agencies.
Generally, resilience is never something one can just check off as completed on a “to-do” list—it is a journey with no end-destination. Through education, advocacy, relationship building, and personal motivation, everyone’s resiliency factors can grow and thus improve outcomes for our children and families. Of course, child welfare’s focus is on the safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes of the children we serve, however we know that more resilient employees provide better outcomes for everyone, including the children and families served. For example, a lower staff turnover rate means kids and families have less changes with caseworkers, which leads to trust building. A highly resilient staff member is more likely to complete quality work and less likely to procrastinate, again leading to better outcomes. When we focus on the employees and building up their resilience, we are ultimately protecting the children and families.