Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Forensic, Social Work, Career, Specialization, Education, Professional Support, Level of Fit, and Ecological Perspective

Major Advisor

Eleanor Lyon, PhD

Associate Advisor

Nancy A. Humphreys, PhD

Associate Advisor

Tina Maschi, PhD

Field of Study

Social Work


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Despite its roots as a leader in juvenile justice, prison advocacy and reform, appreciation and professional support for forensic social work (FSW) has waxed and waned over the last one hundred and twenty years. It has gone from leadership in the field of criminal justice to becoming nearly invisible to the profession of social work itself. Over the last decade, FSW began experiencing a resurgence thanks to a shift in policy and practice toward treatment and diversion for justice-involved individuals. Despite FSW’s historical roots and relevance to today’s justice systems, there is a dearth of materials about who is practicing in the FSW field and their level of fit in their organization. Other information, such as how they chose their specialization, how they were educated and trained, and how various protective and deleterious (negative) factors influence that level of fit, job satisfaction, job role stress and sustainability is also essential.

Because this critically important area of practice was not well reflected in the literature, this study examined those gaps. Relying on the ecological perspective, this study used a cross-sectional design to electronically survey 384 individuals working as social workers in the core criminal and juvenile justice processes within 13 public, non-profit and proprietary agencies in Connecticut. The quantitative and qualitative findings of this research indicate that this sample of forensic social workers came from a variety of backgrounds, worked in a variety of settings, and experienced difficulty with level of fit and job role stress. The group had moderate to high levels of secondary traumatic stress (STS), burnout (BO), and compassion satisfaction (CS) with STS and BO increasing with the number of negative factors experienced by the individual. The most predictive factors for STS, BO, and job role stress were stress over isolation from other social workers at work, resources, safety, and value inconsistencies with one’s place of work. Based on the results of this study, the suggested policy and practice implications would improve process and outcomes for the profession, the specialization, the workers, and the employers. Those changes would reduce the impact of negative factors on social workers, particularly those in custodial or other host settings, and increased protective factors (e.g. mentoring, clinical supervision, and social work training) would improve job satisfaction, recruitment and retention. Considering the important work of forensic social workers and their impact on marginalized, oppressed, and often victimized individuals entangled in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, implications for increased social work education and training through specialized forensic curricula would provide a highly educated pool of forensic social workers prepared to address the individual and social justice needs of clients.