Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Social Work

Degree Program

Social Work, PhD

Committee Chair

Barbee, Anita

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Antle, Becky

Committee Member

Antle, Becky

Committee Member

Collins-Camargo, Crystal

Committee Member

Cunningham, Michael

Author's Keywords

Indirect trauma; child welfare; secondary traumatic stress; attachment; supportive supervision


Child welfare organizations throughout the nation grapple with turnover rates estimated to be as high as 65% (e.g., CWLA, 2016; Edwards & Wideman, 2018). Turnover contributes negatively to client outcomes, organizational financial shortages, and to perpetuating stressful conditions for the child welfare workforce. One factor found to contribute to turnover within child welfare is that of secondary traumatic stress (STS). Child welfare workers are known to experience higher rates of STS than any other helping professional (Brady, 2017). However, while many risk and protective factors for secondary traumatic stress have been evaluated, there remains a gap in the literature as to the mechanism through which these factors work. The present study addressed this gap through application of adult attachment theory as the theoretical foundation to view the impact of predictive variables as well as addition of a new predictive variable to the child welfare STS literature, that of attachment style. This secondary data analysis study utilized data from public child welfare workers and supervisors from Ohio. Results showed attachment style had a significant impact at the individual, interpersonal, and organizational levels. Individual worker attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance, both general and supervisor-specific, were significantly positively correlated with secondary traumatic stress along with many predictor variables. Additionally, SEM analysis showed both a direct and indirect pathway to STS for a worker’s supervisor-specific attachment anxiety, and an indirect pathway for supervisor-specific attachment avoidance. A 2 (high or low supervisor’s anxious attachment) x2 (high or low supervisor’s avoidant attachment) MANOVA analysis showed an interaction effect such that workers with a securely attached supervisor experienced lower rates of STS and work stress, and increased perceptions of supervisor support and work-life balance. Full results and description of the impact of these findings are described in the chapters below.