Staffing issues

Self-care strategies: can they be taught?

self care image 2

Summary of this peer reviewed study1

  1. Residential, foster care and juvenile justice workers are subject to considerable stress in their roles, therefore the sector experiences high turnover.
  2. It has long been suggested that improved self-care will result in less stressed workers, less turnover and less burnout (resulting in fewer Workcover claims).
  3. This US study investigates how frequently child welfare staff (i.e. child protection workers in Australia) engage in self-care practices but does not analyse the relationship between such practices and rates of staff turnover.
  4. The researchers argue that child welfare agencies have a key responsibility in promoting the importance of self-care to their staff.
  5. The study indicates that most child welfare workers in the US only engage in ‘moderate’ levels of self-care.
  6. Interestingly, those who were financially stable, in long-term relationships and had ‘very good health’ participated in more self-care practices.


Rarely have I reviewed the data of a peer reviewed article and come to conclusions that are diametrically opposite to those of authors!

The fact that child welfare staff only engage in a moderate level of self-care is interesting given the effort that organisations have put into promoting self-care over the last decade.

This begs the question of whether self-care can be taught or is an attribute that staff bring with them to the job.

It may be tempting to conclude that if we could encourage staff to engage in higher levels of self-care then the result would be improved health, greater financial stability and better long-term relationships—but this would seem a bit of stretch.

In my nearly 30 years of experience in the field, I have met many very good and well-intentioned people who are overwhelmed by the stress inherent to the work. (I recall one person who went out for a break after two hours on shift in a secure unit and was never seen again!)

What do you think?

Do you believe that self-care can be taught or is it something that people bring with them to the job?

  • Miller, J. J., et al. (2018). “Exploring the self-care practices of child welfare workers: A research brief.” Children and Youth Services Review 84: 137-142.

About graemembaird

I am a psychologist with a special interest in improving the outcomes of families, children and young people in the Out of Home Care and Juvenile Justice systems.
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4 thoughts on “Self-care strategies: can they be taught?

  1. Hi Graeme,
    I believe a person must have a positive disposition for self care and so take steps to look after themselves. But organisations need to provide a framework to promote self care practices for staff members. Put simply there are the personal, team and organisational steps that support positive self care and all three levels need to work together.
    Best Wishes

    1. I agree entirely with Gerard point that organisations needing to provide a framework of self care practices for their staff. This is part of their duty of care. But my question is why some people have a positive disposition to self care and therefore adopt self-care practices and other appear not to have such a disposition. How would you test for such disposition at the interview stage?

  2. Hi Graeme, I believe its balance of both the works disposition and mental health as well as teaching the skills of wellbeing/self care. In my experience I have met many people in stressful organisations such as Resi or Foster care with their own mental health challenges which makes the teaching of the skills of wellbeing even more of a challenge. I believe the skills can be taught to employees who report being mentally stable on the mental health continuum at the time.

    1. Joanne raises and important issue namely does the mental health of staff prior to employment increase their vulnerability to work related stress or their capacity to engage in self care activities when stressed. How do we strike a balance between not discriminating against people with mental health issues whilst at the same time recognizing that such health issues might make them more vulnerable to work place stress or less inclined to utilize self care practices?

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