Improved Hiring for Child Protective Investigators
Reaume, Sherri, Law & Order
A large body of research articles exists that addresses child physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. The same goes for the investigation of pre-employment psychological evaluations for law enforcement and correctional officers. To date, however, no studies from the psychology literature have focused on using preemployment psychological evaluations to assess psychological characteristics of child protective investigative applicants.
Many major law enforcement agencies often have staff specifically assigned to investigate crimes against children. To increase accountability, separation of the investigative and protective services functions was initiated to isolate the facilitative protective functions with the more adversarial functions of the investigative unit being handled by law enforcement agencies.
By separating the two functions, it was intended that the investigative unit, which is provided by police department and sheriff's offices, would be able to remain more objective and true to its focus and mission. While law enforcement officers primarily address enforcement aspects pertaining to the alleged crime, child protective investigators are customarily delegated the responsibility for interviewing, investigating, and managing abuse / neglect cases.
A career in child welfare is a demanding and difficult vocational path. A child protective investigator must approach child maltreatment as both social (from the social worker's point of view) and criminal (from the law enforcement point of view) in nature. This conflict is inherent in the role, which includes protecting the children and attempting to maintain the family while, at the same time, helping law enforcement investigate and prosecute the caregivers for criminal acts. Burnout and dissatisfaction are major factors of high turnover for this predominately female career choice.
Turnover rates range from 30% to 60% for child protective investigators in a typical year; the average duration of employment is less than two years. This is especially detrimental considering child protective investigators require two years of training and experience to become efficient at their jobs.
The purpose of this article is to examine the personality characteristics of the child protective investigators who continue to perform their job duties for a minimum of two years. These findings will help to identify the personality dimensions best suited for child protective investigators, which will lead to a reduction in turnover. It is crucial that the sources and nature of the stress associated with discharging duties as child protective investigator are identified, as well as the relationship between stress and personality traits.
Pre-employment Selection Testing
Use of psychological testing to assess criminal justice system applicants is nearing its centennial. Traditionally, psychological testing instruments have been used to identify the risk for untoward behavior or to screen out applicants. Although researchers have been attempting to develop tests to "select in" the best applicants, they have had limited success. The process of "selecting in" the best applicants usually involves identifying normal, non-pathological personality traits, which are conducive to efficient functioning in the type of employment being sought.
A review of the literature (Academic Search Premier, MEDLINE, PsycARTICLES and PsycINFO) yielded no published studies attempting to identify psychological traits or characteristics (neither normal nor pathological) of child protective investigators. This scarcity of research exists despite the well-documented literature highlighting the stress associated with discharging duties as a child protective investigator.
The research has shown that child welfare investigators exhibit more depersonalization, less worker comfort, more role ambiguity and conflict, and more value conflict than workers in other human service settings. Inadequate pay scales, difficult work conditions, extremely large caseloads, lack of recognition, chronic stress, overwork, secondary traumatization, and a host of other negative job characteristics have exacerbated the crisis in child welfare investigator retention.
The root of the stress is seeing people's pain and knowing that you - the child protective investigator - are part- ly to blame for their pain. Although the child protective investigator knows in her heart that she has done the right thing, she may experience negative consequences to her personal identity. Changes in her personal identity may lead to self-imposed social isolation, self-doubt, and reduced self-worth.
Research on personality traits associated with child protective investigators employment longevity has utility for social service agencies, law enforcement agencies, and the community.
Predictors of Job Performance
The subjects were 160 child protective investigator applicants. Descriptive data for select scales of the OMNI Personality Inventory, and the Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT). The OMNI Personality Inventory measures normal personality traits, personality disorders, and components of the Five Factor Model and are presented.
Many occupational stress models emphasize the point that two people who experience the same work environment may interpret the environment differently. Different responses occur secondary to the intricate relationship between characteristics of the environment and individual personality traits.
On the Wonderlic Personnel Test, the mean normative scores for male and female college students are 26 (IQ score of 113) and 25 (IQ score of 111) respectively. The study sample mean score was slightly below, yet within one standard deviation of the standardization sample mean.
Intellect / Openness to Experience measures a person's receptivity to novel experiences, ideas, and training success. Individuals high in Intellect / Openness to Experience are more inclined to be creative, original, daring, and unconventional. They are generally less judgmental, less prejudiced and more open and accepting.
However, this individual would rapidly become disillusioned and dissatisfied in the current dysfunctional, bureaucratic child protection systems that are gaining in popularity. At the mid-level, an individual appreciates both innovation and efficiency, but neither one to the extreme. This individual is moderately tolerant of diversity and unconventional social norms.
Conscientiousness has been found to be a valid predictor of job performance across occupations because it is a measure of motivation and diligence. Extremely high conscientiousness may result in too much stress for the child protective investigator. Any individual with a tendency to be an over-achiever may find the role conflict and role ambiguity of this job competes with his trait need for disciplined and dependable processes.
An investigator with more moderate levels of conscientiousness has a sense of competence, is principled, organized, diligent, self-disciplined, self-regulated, and possesses orderly work habits but not to the compulsive extent that the highly conscientious investigator would possess. This person is focused on his goals, he is better at multi-tasking, and can be involved in numerous projects without becoming compulsive about them.
Extraversion measures a person's preference for personal interaction and his activity level and cheerfulness. High extraversion is crucial in any position where an employee must routinely interact with co-workers and the public, but it is an especially favorable trait for child protective investigators whose job duties include mentoring, leading, and persuading. High scores in extroversion are related to more effective teamwork and greater training proficiency. These individuals prefer to be leaders and have vigorous energy for such undertakings.
Agreeableness measures variation in attitudes toward other people. It is a valid predictor in all occupations where teamwork and customer service is required. A mid-level agreeable investigator would be described as having a clear sense of personal identity. He works well as a team member or independently.
This investigator is competitive yet cooperative, warm, and agreeable, which implies he is flexible enough to look for a compromise when appropriate. This investigator is persistent but not overbearing or rude. A person in the middle or upper level of agreeableness would be a nurturing type of person, which is especially important for those mentoring children.
Neuroticism / emotional stability is related to job performance and training success across occupations and is indicated as the best predictor for the lack of turnover. Neuroticism measures the propensity of a person to experience negative emotions like anxiety, anger, and depression. Lower neuroticism scale scores suggest that child protective investigator applicants are inclined to be reasonably happy, relaxed, less stress-prone, and emotionally stable. Others may describe them as being selfreliant, socially adjusted and active.
Based upon the premise that personality traits are responsible for behavior, the Five Factor Model of personality has potential for application and practicality, however, it is by no means an allencompassing theory of personality.
The proposed research has practical implications for child protection agencies throughout the country that are experiencing high rates of turnover. The factors found to be involved in the turnover of child protective investigators are complex and will require a multifaceted approach over an extended period of time to resolve. Many of the problems lie within the system itself.
However, the research has shown that effective recruitment and selection is essential to achieving successful training outcomes, high performance, and increased retention in the private sector and for high-risk occupations.
The child protection program will be more effective at providing for the care, safety, and protection of abused and neglected children in an environment that fosters healthy social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development because the decrease in turnover will lead to a confident, more qualified staff of investigators.
The development and validation of selection procedures to include identification of the personality factors that are most likely to be possessed by successful job performers and those least likely to leave the agency will most likely be adopted with enthusiasm.
Although implementation of better recruitment and selection procedures will serve to reverse the detrimental results of high turnover in child protection agencies throughout the country, it is not to be solely relied upon for performance improvement. State legislators need to make a reasonable effort to implement initiatives to reduce turnover to include improved training, monetary incentives, and improved abuse hotline procedures.
A stable, well-trained workforce is essential for effective functioning of a child protection investigation unit. As a result of organizational stressors and the inherent nature of the job duties of a child protective investigator, the high turnover of employees has serious implications for the designated sheriffs' offices, fellow employees, and the families served in the community.
The turnover of child protective investigators negatively impacts the quality and timeliness in which child abuse investigative activities are conducted, and in turn, the assurances that the children are safe.
Although no method of prediction can be 100% accurate, personality traits are linked to behavior and, according to personality psychologists, lead to specific responses in specific situations. Personality is certainly not destiny, but the utilization of personality traits for predicting job performance is valuable for use in the selection of child protective investigators.
Sherri Reaume, M.S., has worked for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office for 15 years. Her assignment is in the human resources /behavior science unit conducting psychological evaluations for pre-employment, special team assignment and fitness for duty evaluations. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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Publication information: Article title: Improved Hiring for Child Protective Investigators. Contributors: Reaume, Sherri - Author. Magazine title: Law & Order. Volume: 57. Issue: 2 Publication date: February 2009. Page number: 19+. © Hendon Publishing Company Jan 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.