Warren County Child Protective caseworker Becky Campana woke at 5:30am and the first thing she did was check her email for emergencies that had come in overnight as she’d been sleeping.
By 8am she was already in the office and preparing a plan for a child on her caseload.
At 10:30am she was being shouted at by a client who was accusing her of lying. Her manager was present too.
Speaking to the Cincinnati Enquirer about this typical day at work, she told of how she was feeling ‘belittled and demeaned’ before she had even made it past midday.
Her first home visit was at 1:30pm, then straight on to another at 3:30 p.m.
After these back-to-back visits she was late to her next one, not getting there until 4:45pm.
Although she had been at work for over 11 hours by that point, the family she was visiting were upset with her as they didn’t see the fact she’d been working since 5:30am, only that she arrived late.
She was out of the house until 7:30pm.
Only the 14 hours of work that day.
Becky got home just in time to put her children to bed. After they were asleep, she checked her work email one final time. If something urgent had come in, she would have had to go back out and deal with it.
Regardless of how tired she was, she didn’t sleep well.
At 5:30am the next day, she was starting the same routine all over again.
Becky’s story that she shared with the Cincinnati Enquirer isn’t unusual and, regardless of where in the world you are reading this from, you’ll likely be nodding along in agreement and seeing shades of her working day in your own.
A recently released study by the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development shows that 53% of children’s services caseworkers within Becky’s home state of Ohio have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The same research, when applied over the eight states taking part in the study, shows that 35-75% of all children’s services workers experience symptoms of PTSD.
Reflecting on these findings, Becky Campana gave the Cincinnati Enquirer examples of how taking the job home with you and not being able to switch off could lead to PTSD.
She shared the story of a teenager she’d been supporting for over three years and the attachment he had to her. She was the one constant in this young man’s life; with removal from his family being followed by a succession of foster care breakdowns brought on by his challenging trauma-driven behaviours.
“He called me ‘Mom,’ ” she recalls, after she supported him through another home move, this time in a raging snowstorm. “He called me mom and he said, ‘Could you just take me to your house?’ Like, ‘why do I have to go to another place?'”
She remembers hearing the word ‘Mom’ and feeling like her heart was going to stop.
“You understand that you’re the only constant person for the last three years in that child’s life, and they really do look at you as a mom figure. You see trauma happening to kids. You feel that,” explained Campana. “You take that home, as much as you don’t want to.”
With such burdens to bear and with being stretched so thin in safeguarding vulnerable children, it is little wonder that so many of Becky Campana’s colleagues are suffering from PTSD.
These findings about the extent of PTSD amongst the children’s services workforce have come about from a national research study to help with the recruitment and retention of child-welfare staff nationwide. The project is being undertaken by the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development in partnership with the United States Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau.
Participating states are Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington.