Working in human services: How do experiences and working conditions in child welfare social work compare?

Pia Tham*, Gabrielle Meagher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Child welfare agencies in many rich countries are having difficulty recruiting and retaining social workers. However, these problems are not unique to child welfare: retention problems have also been widely reported in both mental and general health facilities. In this paper, we compare the perceptions of work and working conditions held by child welfare social workers with the perceptions held by other professional human service workers in the public sector in Sweden. Do the social workers' experiences of their tasks or organizational conditions differ from the other groups, and, if so, how? Are workforce problems particularly acute in child welfare, or do social workers in this field share more or less common problems with other human service professionals? We found that although social workers in general, and child welfare social workers in particular, made positive assessments of some dimensions of their working lives, social work was unusually demanding among human service professions on several measures of workload, complexity of tasks and quality of management. The strains of the job that social workers expressed call upon employers to promote working conditions that offer more support, and to recognize and value social workers for their work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)807-827
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes


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