The field of child welfare struggles with rapid job turnover, causing an enormous burden on child welfare agencies, both in the time and resources required to replace employees and in the ability for workers to work effectively with their clients. This study describes the contributors to, experiences of, and outcomes of foster care workers' emotional responses to their work. Affective events theory contributed to the conceptual framework for this study, which uniquely draws from several research traditions---organizational theory, positive psychology, and social work---to describe and conceptualize the relationships of multi-level contributors to foster care workers' affective reactions at work and resulting job attitudes, notably job satisfaction and happiness, and job and field turnover intention.
Semi-structured, in depth interviews were conducted with 25 foster care workers from five nonprofit foster care agencies in New York City. In addition, standardized surveys were administered and basic organizational data was collected. Multiple case study methods drawing from grounded theory and case study methods guided the data analysis.
In general, foster care workers made overwhelmingly negative comments about the larger environment within which their agencies were embedded. Most workers were very positive about their clients, coworkers, and supervisors, and accounts of agencies sorted themselves out into three organizational types: Positive, Negative, and Mixed. A typology of foster care workers based on their job attitudes was created. Three groups emerged: Stayers, Fence:Sitters, and Leavers. Most workers, regardless of group affiliation, named more negative than positive emotions. Fence-Sitters and Leavers, however, are at higher risk of leaving their jobs and the field.
These findings have practice implications at multiple levels. At the institutional level, changes in policy and funding could improve the working conditions for foster care workers. At the organizational level, agencies that are Negative or Mixed can strive to be more Positive. At the individual level, agency leaders can take on a significant role in fostering a culture where workers are encouraged to name, foster, maintain, extend, and transfer their good feelings at work.