Date of Award

Spring 4-4-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Lani Nelson-Zlupko, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Richard J. Gelles, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Susan Kinnevy, Ph.D. and Roberta Iversen, Ph.D.


It is widely believed that high profile child death cases and the media fallout surrounding such cases shakes and weakens the Child Protective Services (CPS) organization’s identity and emotionally affects the child protective service workers. However, this issue has not been systematically studied.

This study employed interpretative phenomenological analysis utilizing in-depth interviews with Child Protective Services workers to explore how a high profile child death impacts their services and work milieu. Participants were selected through purposive sampling recruited at Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services, a large metropolitan child protective service organization. The narratives of N=10CPSworkers were examined for their lived experiences in their role as protective workers, the circumstances surrounding their crisis, and the nature of their social services world.

Results indicate that the intense media and public response following a high profile child death led to overly negative views ofCPSworkers as a whole, contributed to feelings of distress, weakened rather than improved communication with management, and lowered morale. Participants felt the Child Fatality Review process exacerbated many of these problems rather than ameliorated them. However, results also indicate that the overwhelming distress experienced after a high profile child death may have promptedCPSworkers to become more rigorous in their approach to assessing families, which, in turn, may have improved practice. Implications for social work and child welfare policy and practice are provided. Recommendations regarding agency management of public image, worker training, organizational change, social service practice and worker morale are included.

Included in

Social Work Commons