Child Services

Child Services

Child welfare staff are first responders; just like police officers and fire fighters, they are asked to respond to emergency situations with very little information, and by doing so often put themselves at risk. In addition to the very real physical risks involved with responding to a report of suspected child abuse or neglect, there are equally real psychological risks involved with taking care of children and families that have experienced abuse, neglect, family and community violence, and other traumas. Unlike police officers and fire fighters, however, child welfare staff get very little public recognition for the hard work they do.

Secondary traumatic stress (STS) refers to the experience of people – usually professionals – who are exposed to others’ traumatic stories as part of their jobs and as a result can develop their own traumatic symptoms and reactions. Child welfare staff are particularly susceptible to STS because of the vulnerable nature of their clients, the unpredictable nature of their jobs, and their relative lack of physical and psychological protection. The development of secondary traumatic stress is recognized as a common occupational hazard for professionals working with traumatized children. Studies show that from 6% to 26% of therapists working with traumatized populations, and up to 50% of child welfare workers, are at high risk for secondary traumatic stress or the related conditions of PTSD and vicarious trauma.

Client care can be compromised if the therapist is emotionally depleted or cognitively affected by secondary trauma. Some traumatized professionals, believing they can no longer be of service to their clients, end up leaving their jobs or the serving field altogether. Prevention and intervention efforts at the individual, supervisor, and organizational levels are necessary. Begin by searching the resources below.

What can I do to address stigma in my organization?

  • Reducing Workplace Mental Health Stigma
    • Stigma is based on assumptions that are uninformed. This article provides guidance for persons living with mental health, parents, friends, or co-workers who know someone living with mental health, and leaders who foster a healthy workplace environment.

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Resources for the Workplace
    • Want to be a StigmaFree organization? Explore the resources the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) specifically developed to meet your StigmaFree Company needs. Many of these are ready-to-go and customizable for your specific needs.

  • Mental Health Stigma at Work: A Business Perspective to Eliminate Stigma
    • About 75% of employees have struggled with an issue that affected their mental health.Yet, 8 out of 10 workers with a mental health condition say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking mental health care. That’s a problem for individuals, but it’s also a problem for employers — because untreated mental health conditions cost American companies billions every year.

Building resilience helps individuals adapt and overcome the effects of stress and trauma associated with police work. It not only helps us move past these events in a healthier manner, but also gives us positive traumatic growth following the event. Creating a self-care plan helps individuals to improve their immunity, increase positive thinking and make us less susceptible to stress, depression, anxiety and other emotional health issues.

How can I reduce the effects of trauma in my employees?

  • How to Build Resilience
    • A brief explanation of what resilience is, the importance building resilience, and ways you can build it to create a healthier and less stressful life.

  • Resilience: Build Skills to Endure Hardship
    • When something goes wrong, do you tend to bounce back or fall apart? This article by the Mayo Clinic Staff provides suggestions on how you can build your resiliency to see past challenging times.

  • Self-Care Toolkit
    • When faced with challenges, we can use either positive coping strategies or negative coping strategies. A step-by-step guide on creating a self-care plan that will help you practice positive coping strategies.

Child victim services are at a greater risk for developing negative mental and physical health consequences including depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal ideation and attempts. Studies have shown that when these physical and mental health issues go unaddressed consequences include: job performance decreases, decision-making abilities are impaired, and agency costs increase. In other words, everyone should be invested in maintaining their wellness, because it has a direct impact on their ability to be effective.

How can I help my employees?

  • Mental Health Workplace Wellness
    • Strategies for Encouraging Staff Wellness
      • Supporting staff well-being helps them provide high quality care. This brief outlines the impact of chronic work-related stress and provides examples of two organizations that prioritize staff wellness.
    • Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace Implementation Guidelines
      • This implementation handbook is intended to be used along with the Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace document below. These two documents work together to help organizations create psychologically healthy and safe workplace environments. This handbook was developed to help organizations and individuals understand where to start and how to move their organization through the initial planning stages to full implementation. 
    • Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace
      • This Standard provides a framework to create and continually improve a psychologically healthy and safe
        workplace, including: the identification and elimination of hazards in the workplace that pose a risk of psychological harm to a worker, the assessment and control of the risks in the workplace associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated, implementing structures and practices that support and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace, and fostering a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace.
  • Resiliency Building Programs
    • Promoting Resilience and Reducing Secondary Trauma Among Child Welfare Staff
      • Child welfare supervisors and administrators have the challenging task of developing and maintaining high-quality practice in a traumatogenic environment. This fact sheet provides information, resources, and handouts on how STS manifests itself in child welfare, the kinds of staff who are at risk for STS, and strategies for prevention of and intervention for STS.

    • Secondary Trauma and Child Welfare Staff: Guidance for Supervisors and Administrators
      • Explains the importance of resilience as an organizational culture, role of inter-group communication to build resilience, major contributors to resilience, and also provides two robust resilience initiatives that have been implemented in other law enforcement departments.

    • Plan for Resilience
      • This resource can help improve your ability to bounce back after a potential health, personal, or work crisis. It will help you identify effective strategies and resources to draw on when needed. Workshop resources include: participant workbook, facilitator guide, facilitator presentation, and a training webinar for facilitators.
  • Vicarious Trauma Informed Organizations
    • Secondary Traumatic Stress: Fact Sheet for Child Serving Professionals
      • This fact sheet is to provide a concise overview of secondary traumatic stress and its potential impact on child-serving professionals. It also outlines options for assessment, prevention, and interventions relevant to secondary stress, and describes the elements necessary for transforming child-serving organizations and agencies into systems that also support worker resiliency.

    • Vicarious Trauma Toolkit for Child-Serving Professionals
      • Vicarious trauma toolkit focuses on organizational responses to work-related exposure to trauma. While some resources in the toolkit may be useful to individuals, the VTT is intended to provide organizations with the tools they need to fulfill their responsibility to support staff and become more vicarious trauma-informed

  • Peer Support Program
    • Supporting Mental Health in First Responders: Overview of Peer Support Programs
      • Overview of peer support programs for your department. Includes benefits and outcomes of peer support, components within a peer support program, the role, recruitment, and training of a peer support worker, and the challenges association with implementing a peer support program.

    • Guidelines for the Practice and Training of Peer Support
      • The article provides two sets of Guidelines intended for policy makers, decision makers, and program leaders to provide direction about the practice of peer support. We encourage prospective and practicing peer support workers to consider the set of Guidelines as a roadmap for personal development, and we encourage administrators to consult the set of Guidelines as they develop or enhance peer support programs within their organizations.

Continuous training and education, beginning in the academy and reinforced throughout the organization, will reduce the negative consequences a traumatic event will have on your employees.

What can I do to learn more?

  • REBOOT Recovery Trauma Healing Course
    • REBOOT is a 12-week trauma healing course for those within the law enforcement, fire, EMS, emergency communications, hospital emergency departments and corrections communities. At groups across the country, first responders and their families are healing, divorce rates are dropping, substance abuse is decreasing, and suicide numbers are being reduced.

  • Resilient Wisconsin Hidden Trauma Webinar
    • This exclusive training webcast from Wisconsin Department of Health for first responders. Explores adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress, risk factors for trauma and stressors, signs of struggle, stigma, and resources for self-care.