Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Social Work

First Advisor

Michele D. Hanna, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Debora Ortega

Third Advisor

Jennifer Bellamy

Fourth Advisor

Christina F. Foust


Caregivers, Child welfare, Oppression, Qualitative, Trauma


The majority of maltreatment perpetrated against children is at the hand of their primary caregiver, most often their mother. The reasons why caregivers maltreat their children are still being investigated. However, the caregiver's history of trauma, in particular cumulative trauma that leads to trauma symptomology is emerging as an explanation for maltreatment. Popular theory describes the coercive and oppressive nature of child welfare system policy and practices, as a source of re-traumatization for caregivers with a trauma history (Harris & Fallot, 2001). Currently, the field of child welfare practice is largely guided by the use of trauma-informed practices, which are meant to bring to light the prevalence of trauma in these populations. Yet, little research has focused on examining the experiences of caregivers involved with child welfare through a trauma lens. Additionally, research that investigates caregivers in child welfare almost always focuses on biological mothers. Therefore, we know even less about caregivers who identify outside this norm, such as fathers, kinship providers and adoptive parents. This research seeks to fill this gap in knowledge by asking the question: How do caregivers with a history of trauma experience child welfare involvement? An exploratory design with a phenomenological approach was employed to answer this question. Ten caregivers; seven biological mothers, one adoptive mother, one kinship provider, and one father were interviewed. The caregiver's experiences of trauma in this study were extensive. All caregivers had experienced at least one traumatic event and the majority reported multiple, chronic, and cumulative traumas. For these caregivers the experience of child welfare involvement was filled with potentially traumatic experiences, starting with the initial allegation and the lingering threat of continued involvement even after the case was closed. Caregivers often found these experiences as betraying of their trust, coercive, leaving them powerless, and stigmatizing. It was found that the assumption that child welfare is re-traumatizing was not sufficient to explain the caregiver experience rather, child welfare involvement, in and of itself, is traumatic.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Erin Ruth Boyce


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

170 p.


Social Work

Included in

Social Work Commons