Supporting human service workers following the Canterbury earthquakes


  • Kate van Heugten University of Canterbury



canterbury earthquakes, christchurch earthquakes, disaster, recovery, human services practice, social work practice,


In the aftermath of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in Canterbury, many human service workers, including social workers, struggled to meet the needs of distressed service users at the same time as they were dealing with the personal impacts of these disasters. The consequences of the earthquakes have been particularly complex and long lasting. There is no known end point for the aftershocks, and the socio-economic repercussions continue to unfold. Forty-three human service workers participated in qualitative research interviews during late 2011. The challenges they identified included the taxing nature of work involving emotional labour in a context of shared trauma; environmental stress; complex demands and fewer resources; ethical dilemmas and moral distress. Many participants re-evaluated their personal and professional priorities, and questioned the fit of those priorities with the values of their employing organisations. In doing so, some had become disenchanted, particularly if they felt they had not been consulted about decisions that impacted on their work with service users. By contrast, some participants expressed a strong sense of loyalty and engagement with organisations where workplace culture was experienced as reflective of the importance of caring for human needs and relationships.


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How to Cite

van Heugten, K. (2016). Supporting human service workers following the Canterbury earthquakes. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 25(2), 35–44.