Be a Self-Care Pro: A First Look at Protective Factors

I absolutely love to be woken up in the wee hours of the morning from a deep sleep!!!! Don’t you! You know what…don’t answer that because some of you do… That will never be the truth for me. . .no matter how much I love this work!  In child protection/adult protection social work, most of us have served on-call rotations or have extraordinary gifts to commit to full-time on-call service. So, yes, you may have caught on to my adding in adult protective social work. How many calls have you received about a naked disabled adult streaking through the neighborhood? That never happens in APS…  

This morning was no exception. I was dead asleep and the Mandalorian ring tone startles me, as I say under my breath, “this is not the way”, and answer the call. A hospital has a kiddo dropped off by a residential facility and told the hospital they will not come back to get them. Yes, there are several issues in this “close to REALity situation”. The next steps were to ensure the report was created, screened, and what action and timeframes would be established. In a scenario like this one, CPS professionals must also look at helping our hospital partner understand what just happened, affirm that it is not OK, and guide them through what will happen next. Another task is to assess this residential facility’s credentials, work with the state licensing and regulation authority, and of course contact the facility to help them understand the impact of making this decision. All this before my coffee was ready! Good morning Social Workers!  

OK, there are a few items I want to discuss in this article. The first is professional Self-Care for yourself and your organization. Yes, we need to be Pro’s at self -care! The second is statistics related to on-call work. Lastly is breaking down the knowledge and skills to make Good Calls™ in such a scenario.  

Self-Care: Become a Pro 

Child protective services is chaotic and complex in nature. The professionals that dedicate their lives to providing such a service must also remember to make self-care a priority and include it in daily professional development. The last thing we want to happen is that YOU become another statistic to burnout and secondary stress. Let’s discuss how you move your adaptive coping strategies to building protective factors! Right? Is that not what we are focused on with our families…building protective factors??  

In a fantastic study in 2020 Cummings, Singer, Moody, and Benuto studied 228 child protective workers to understand what coping strategies they activate to combat burnout, secondary stress, and vicarious stress (click the link below to find the full study). The discovery is not totally shocking. The onset of negative emotions and negative emotional responses foster distance and disenfranchisement from the passion of keeping children safe. The reasons for “allowing the dark side” to take you are numerous. Dark side lures can be lack of resources to do the job, constant turn-over in your team which means you take on more work, the complex and seemingly hopelessness child protective professionals feel when they are trying to help families build protective factors, and a lack of support from your supervisor and leadership – just to name a few.  

So, WHY do I stay, and HOW can I continue to stay in this job I love? Identifying healthy coping strategies and transforming them to protective factors. OK, what is the difference? A coping strategy is something that must be continually practiced, or it loses potency. Once a coping strategy is positioned in your behavior and becomes effortlessly activated AND activates natural “joy” responses in the brain, it becomes set as a protective factor.  Say, humor is your coping strategy. You must feed your funny bones 3 times per day to keep them sharp and share with others. Sharing your adaptive coping skills creates an omnidirectional force multiplier of anabolic energy. This anabolic energy generates the natural “joy” responses (dopamine release) serving as the biological reinforcement we need to maintain the behavior. Therefore, daily practice and sharing are strategies to build protective factors from coping mechanisms.   

Dark humor will tend to lead to the dark side, just keep that in mind. The warning here is not to feed the catabolic energy. Catabolic and dark energy feeds negative thoughts and emotions triggering our fight, flight, or freeze responses. It fills our brains with cortisol (unfortunate pickling juice essentially speaking…), and the danger is that it acts as cement casting our emotions and behaviors, which can be somewhat painful to break. Yes, the good news is that humans are created to heal! The hope is that it is never too late to work on building strong protective factors.  

Protective factors: 

  1. Cognitive 
  • Can articulate plan of self-care 
  • Aligned with personal health goals 
  • Adequate knowledge to fulfill self-care plan 
  • Reality oriented 
  • Accurate perceptions of strengths and areas of growth 
  1. Behavioral 
  • Physically able  
  • History of using self-care 
  • Acts to correct issues of work/life balance 
  • Demonstrates skills to use self-care in and out of the office 
  • Has adequate energy 
  • Demonstrates adaptivity and assertiveness  
  • Uses resources for self-care 
  1. Emotional 
  • Can meet their own emotional needs 
  • Emotionally able to intervene with work/life is not balanced 
  • Realizes the work comes with little thanks and appreciation 
  • Displays concern for work and self-care 
  • Has a strong bond with professional and personal identity – you know who you are 
  • Can express empathy without over-empathizing; assists with controlling secondary stress and trauma from the work 

Building Protective Factors is even more beneficial when we do this in our teams and agencies! Giving our teammates and leadership permission to help us maintain a healthy work/life balance improves our ability to normalize this into our culture at work.  

CPS On-Call Statistics 

CPS On-Call is inherently more chaotic since you are called out into the night or in the wee hours of the morning. What are some statistics found in research articles related to CPS On-Call. Well…there is a deep deficit of research conducted on the subject of CPS On-Call, After Hours Work, or Shift Work! In a deep literature dive searching on the 3 key terms listed above, we find 1 article from New Zealand from 2011. The content is relevant to this article. Hanna (2011) found the following relevant themes associated with interviewing CPS After Hours professionals: 

  1. The after-hours has different pressures associated with it. Lack of connectivity to a team and higher exposure to acute crisis. 
  2. Theory and practice models do not fit after hours work. The acuity of cases carries higher rates of reaction/response justifying “in the moment/common sense decisions” 
  3. After Hours/On-Call requires a completely different skill set. Professionals use more active listening and inquiry to help bring parents our of crisis mode. 
  4. Technology difficulties. If technology fails, there is no 24 hr service to help = work duplications 
  5. Physical demands of the work. It is more difficult to balance healthy eating, sleeping, and social life for the After Hours/On-Call CPS professional 

Making a Good Call™ based on the shared scenario 

The first Good Call is to listen to our partner at the hospital. Take time to learn as much as possible about the situation. Start with “can you tell me everything you know about this child” and then “everything from when this child came into the hospital to now everything you know?”. You are looking for all the pertinent information about the child and how and why they came to be at the emergency department with no adult to supervise them (you need to know the people in the case, timelines, and spaces such as the placement facility, child’s home, and the emergency department). Secondly, as “tell me everything you know about this child’s group home”. As I stated above it is important to know what kind of facility this child is in. That will help you know if you need to make a report to your state, or jurisdictions licensing and regulation department, or even law enforcement if the facility is not licensed.  

The second Good Call once you have listened to your hospital partner walk them through the next steps regarding “what to expect”. This can be the response of the child protection agency, and, they may have some responsibility as a medical provider to report the issues. Protecting this child is “our” responsibility.  


Cummings, C., Singer, J., Moody, S. A., & Benuto, L. T. (2020). Coping and Work-Related Stress Reactions in Protective Services Workers. British Journal of Social Work, 50(1), 62–80. 

Hanna, S. (2011). “Covering the Country”: After Hour’s Emergency Child Protection Social Work Services. International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 5(12), 103–113.