Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work

Program Name/Specialization

Community, Policy, Planning and Organizations


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Nancy Freymond

Advisor Role

Ann-Curry Stevens

Second Advisor

Danielle Law


Child welfare workers are faced with suffering on a daily basis. Workers report experiencing empathetic distress (also known as compassion fatigue) and many feel discouraged from showing self-compassion or compassion toward others. However, the literature on compassion suggests that self-compassion and compassion for others builds resiliency, improves job satisfaction and increases engagement. Workers who support themselves with self-compassion may be less likely to experience burnout and more willing to create inclusive and compassionate environments. This study was conducted in two phases. The goals of the Phase 1 mixed-method, cross sectional study were to (1) assess the level of self-compassion and compassion for others experienced by child welfare workers and (2) to identify barriers and facilitators to organizational compassion. A quantitative survey was administered to 100 employees in a child welfare agency in Ontario. Twenty employees (20%) completed the online survey. Two leaders were interviewed about compassion in their organization. Data collection was discontinued because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Phase 1 findings show a low-level of organizational trust reported by workers and lower levels of self-compassion and compassion for and from others compared to a sample of US Child Welfare workers. Qualitative findings revealed barriers to compassion including: a culture of toughness, role siloing, layoffs and lack of trust among workers, fear, and a crisis driven organizational environment subject to persistent system changes. Facilitators included: worker interpretation of the reason for the behaviour (trauma informed practice), curiosity, listening to the voices of clients, flexibility, risk-taking, mindfulness and supervisor support.

Phase 2 of this study involved a comparative content analysis of the 1990 Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) and the 2017 Child and Youth Family Services Act (CYFSA) alongside the 2016 Ontario Child Protection Standards. The goal of this Phase 2 portion was to investigate how compassion is framed discursively and institutionally within this organization. Overall, the results showed an absence of language pertaining to the concept of compassion across all texts. It also showed an increased emphasis on control and surveillance over the work of CASs in the CYFSA and accompanying Standards as compared to the CFSA. Additionally, the CYFSA showed an increased focus on the rights of children, as well as relationships with parents, which are promising indicators of compassion. Overall however, the language of the legislation complicates the possibilities for emphasizing compassion, thereby increasing the potential for more dehumanized forms of intervention. The study concludes with recommendations for increasing compassion inside child welfare systems.


Compassion, Self-compassion, child protection, child welfare workers, mindfulness

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