• Compassion fatigue among adult protective services social workers

      Bergel, Dara P.; Belcher, John R. (2007)
      Compassion fatigue is a relatively new concept that describes the symptoms that are experienced by helping professionals who work with clients experiencing trauma from assault, maltreatment, and/or disaster. Little research has focused on the risk factors, effects, and experiences of social workers, specifically who work with the elderly. The purpose of this study was to qualitatively explore the experiences and perspectives of Adult Protective Services (APS) social workers related to compassion fatigue. Nine APS social workers were interviewed from six urban counties of the South Central Region of Pennsylvania. The constant comparative method of qualitative research elicited categories and themes, ultimately leading to a working hypothesis, which helped to explain why this particular sample did not experience compassion fatigue. They indicated that they developed and utilized self-protection measures to stave off any aspects of compassion fatigue. The APS social workers combined personal characteristics and professional factors to develop boundary-setting mechanisms which protected them from experiencing the symptoms and effects of compassion fatigue. The personal characteristics included the knowledge and skills developed from social work education, a personal history of dealing with crisis in their own lives, specific personality traits that APS social workers believe are inherent and needed in order to succeed in this job, the personal sense of achievement that they experience from doing this type of work, their overall fondness for this type of work, the familiarity and knowledge that they have gained from this job, and the personal strengths that these APS social workers intrinsically possess. The professional factors which have assisted APS social workers in creating boundaries are co-worker support, lack of supervisory and institutional support which fosters independence, the feeling of authority that is granted by the job, and the APS social worker's knowledge of the professional resources offered by their employer, the Area Agency on Aging. Social work education, micro practice, macro practice, and policy implications center around the elements needed to implement boundaries in order to maintain a separation between the work and home environment. Suggestions for future research are also provided.