The undocumented stress of protective services work

March 5, 2018 | Press Releases & Announcements

Stacey Plichta

Stacey Plichta

Professor Stacey Plichta has coauthored a paper examining the professional quality of life of adult protective services workers. The findings were published in the Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect.

Adult Protective Services (APS) workers are exposed to substantial occupational hazards and job stress, but these stressors are underdocumented. Plichta describes, “Frontline social services workers are those who work in such areas as child protective services, adult protective services, and mental health crisis teams.  They are exposed to emotionally wrenching and physically dangerous situations as a routine part of their work.  This near constant exposure is likely to take a toll on both physical and mental health, as well as lead to burnout, absenteeism and high turnover.” This study sought to describe APS workers’ work environments and responses to occupational hazards and stressors, including compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress.

Survey data were gathered with closed-ended questionnaires administered to APS workers in an urban setting. Virtually all workers (97%) reported exposure to one or more environmental hazards in their work, and 80% reported hazard exposure in the past month. Workers also reported mixed responses to their work environment and to experiences with supervision. A sizable minority (22.7%) was at high risk for burnout, 24.6% were at risk for secondary traumatic stress, and 19.9% reported low compassion satisfaction. Plichta noted that the findings showed that those workers with supportive supervisors reported lower levels of burnout.

The results document multiple stressors in APS work. “Frontline social services workers help to protect and care for the most vulnerable in our community. Our results can help inform interventions to support frontline workers and help mitigate the inherent risks to their health posed by their job.  Research on other frontline workers is sorely needed,” said Plichta.

She goes on to note that further research on other frontline workers is sorely needed. “We are currently examining work hazards and health in those who work with victims of intimate partner violence, elder abuse and trafficking in NYC,” Plichta explains.


Angela Ghesquiere, Stacey B. Plichta, Caitlin McAfee & Geoff Rogers (2017) Professional quality of life of adult protective service workers, Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect, 30:1, 1-19, DOI: 10.1080/08946566.2017.1352550