Defense Date


Graduation Date



Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Counselor Education and Supervision (ExCES)


School of Education

Committee Chair

Lisa Lopez Levers

Committee Member

Anette M. De Nardo

Committee Member

Emma Mosley


case workers, child welfare, Pennsylvania, vicarious trauma


Although many studies have addressed burnout, secondary trauma, and job satisfaction among child welfare workers throughout the United States, a review of the current and available literature revealed limited research addressing the impact of vicarious trauma and its relationship to worker retention, recruitment, and job satisfaction. This study was conducted within the context of traumatology theory and examined how vicarious trauma affects child welfare workers and to what degree vicarious trauma has had an impact on their collective community, the child welfare system. The research question that guided this study was: How does vicarious trauma affect child welfare workers and the system in which they work? This qualitative, multi-case study was grounded in the Constructive Self Development Theory (CSDT) developed by Lisa McCann and Laurie Pearlman. CSDT is a developmental and interpersonal theory with a trauma focus that explains the impact of trauma on an individual's psychological development, identity, and adaptation. Focus groups and informant interviews were the primary source of data. The researcher utilized an "interpretive" approach to data collection and analysis, inquiring not only about physical events and/or behavior, but also about how the participant makes sense of those events and/or behaviors, following such lines of inquiry as: How does a caseworker make sense of listening to and knowing about the trauma of children? How does this empathetic engagement influence the caseworker's world view, personality, safety, self-esteem, and coping mechanisms? In this qualitative study, 300 child welfare administrators, supervisors, caseworkers, and support staff were interviewed. An analysis of their responses indicated severe disruptions in world view, frame of reference, self capacities, ego resources, psychological needs and cognitive schemas, and memory and perception. Of the three contributing factors of vicarious trauma, the organization proved to be the most disruptive and least supportive. Vicarious trauma has gone unrecognized in the child welfare system in Pennsylvania.