Title

Social Workers' Attachment to Their Pets, Organizational Structures, and Their Impact on Professional Assessment Regarding the Roles Pets Play in Clients' Lives

Date of Completion

January 2011

Keywords

Social Work

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

For social work clients, pets occupy important positions in each stage of their lives. Paying attention to the roles pets play in clients' lives is critical to providing clients with maximum help. While some social work scholars emphasize the importance of assessing the roles pets play in clients' lives, most ignore this area. ^ This study examined the extent to which social work direct practitioners employed by organizations assessed the roles pets played in clients' lives. Three factors, the level of 1) social workers' attachment to their own pets, 2) their organization's formalization (the tightness of organizational rules and procedures) and 3) their organization's complexity (the number of occupational specialties), were investigated as independent variables that would account for assessing the roles pets played in clients' lives. The Cronbach alphas of pet attachment and formalization scales were .97 and .82 respectively, suggesting high internal consistency. ^ A survey was mailed to 1,650 randomly selected social workers from a regular membership list of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (N=2,781). Of 1,119 respondents who completed the survey, 472 met the sample's inclusion criteria: social work direct practitioners working in organizations and conducting client assessments in the previous 5 years. The vast majority of the study sample were female (n=387, 82.3%) and White (n=427, 91.0%). The mean age was 49.9 (SD=11.0). Over half of the respondents ( n=269, 57.5%) assessed the roles pets played in clients' lives. A majority of respondents who assessed the roles pets played in clients' lives asked about clients' pets' types (97.0%), names (85.9%), and if pets were sources of pleasure for clients (79.9%). ^ The hierarchical multiple regression analysis suggests that the level of social workers' attachment to their own pets significantly increased the assessment frequency of the roles pets play in clients' lives (the pet assessment frequency). However, neither organizational formalization nor complexity predicted the pet assessment frequency. In contrast, including inquiries about the roles pets played in clients' lives in the assessment protocol significantly increased the pet assessment frequency. Moreover, social workers' gender (female), years of social work practice, and employment in agencies serving older adults, significantly increased the pet assessment frequency. ^ The study findings emphasize that social workers' personal and positive experiences with their own pets can broaden their perspectives as a helping professional in dealing with needs of clients with pets. The study findings also suggest that the presence of a concrete assessment protocol corresponding to clients' specific needs increases social workers' professional assessment about those needs. For social work direct practitioners, assessing clients' needs is an important step in developing the best plan to solve clients' problems. Social workers must comprehensively assess clients' needs through careful evaluation of clients' ecologies. The study findings suggest that social work practice theory should strongly emphasize the roles of pets as relevant environmental factors for clients with pets, particularly as important family resources. ^