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Tools for Victim Services

Tools in this section have been gathered and vetted for usefulness and relevance to a wide range of victim service organizations, including government agencies, community nonprofit agencies, grassroots organizations, child and adult protective services, court-appointed special advocates programs, and children's advocacy centers. After completing the VT–ORG for Victim Services, use the VT–ORG Scoresheet and Action Plan to analyze the results and prioritize the areas of organizational health you identified as challenges. Then, use the resources and research literature in the toolkit to implement strategies to build your capacity as a vicarious trauma-informed organization.

Addressing vicarious trauma in a victim services agency means having good eyes...knowing what your people are experiencing. Once you're aware of that, you're compelled to do something. It's a no-brainer. It's part of the job. I owe this to not just my agency or my department, but I also owe it to my field. That commitment comes from knowledge. Knowledge, coupled with caring and responsibility, becomes commitment.

—William Petty, Former Director of Victim Services, Austin Police Department

 

Organizational Strategies

To address the impact of vicarious trauma, leaders in vicarious trauma-informed organizations proactively integrate strategies into workplace values, operations, and practices; maintain a clear vision that supports and articulates the agency's mission; and regularly model and promote open and respectful communication.

Voices From the Field

Agency leadership recognized the need and created a program where we can have one-on-one opportunities to debrief with a skilled clinician at times when we feel overwhelmed or otherwise stressed. They make it easy for us to ask for help and provide helpful resources if we need them to address the impact of working with survivors of sexual violence all day, every day.

—Sexual Assault Advocate, Victim Services

We work with individual staff to determine what works best for them, as it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Our staff tells us what is helpful to them, a waste of time, appreciated, what makes them uncomfortable. Then we work out an individual stress reduction plan for that staff. With leadership respecting the needs of our staff, we have maintained a surprisingly low rate of staff turnover. Our staff will tell you they feel appreciated and valued.

—Executive Director, Child Advocacy Center, Victim Services

What the Research Literature Tells Us

Leadership can sustain staff by anticipating and responding to staff needs, showing appreciation, and creating safe forums for communication (McFarlane and Bryant 2007; Howlett and Collins 2014). Open and transparent communication regarding organizational mission, strategy, resources, and implementation of policies and procedures provides a strong foundation within the agency (Brondolo et al. 2008). Providing staff with greater access to the organization's strategic information also lowers the level of vicarious trauma (Choi 2011).

The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.

—(Remen 2006).

Compendium of Resources

Featured Tool

Related Resources

To fulfill their obligation to lessen the impact of vicarious trauma, managers and supervisors in vicarious trauma-informed organizations foster supportive relationships based on inclusivity, mutual respect, and trust; promote policies and practices that lessen the negative impact of the work; seek out and support staff following critical or acute incidents; and conduct performance evaluations that include discussions of vicarious trauma.

Voices From the Field

When my supervisor checks in with me after an event...it gives me the opportunity to express some of the issues that the situation brought up for me. I have been thinking that more regular meetings to relieve the effects of vicarious trauma are necessary. I also felt worried that she might think that there was something wrong with me because I was upset by the situation. Regular meetings or scheduled individual support would help avoid this feeling.

—Advocate/Case Worker, Victim Services

The opportunity for ongoing peer consultation has proved invaluable as managers are not always available. This has fostered mutual trust and respect among colleagues, unified team members, and reduced stress levels as practitioners know they are not alone.

—Supervisor/Program Manager, Victim Services

What the Research Literature Tells Us

Providing quality supervision in an environment where staff feel safe and respected enables practitioners to overcome the stress of heavy workloads and remain on the job (Slattery and Goodman 2009; Bednar 2003). Having a structured protocol for case review, along with collegial team reflection and support, also helps counter the impact of vicarious trauma (Howlett and Collins 2014; Geller, Madsen, and Ohrenstein 2004).

Compendium of Resources

Featured Tools

Related Resources

To promote and maintain a healthy work environment, vicarious trauma-informed organizations foster teamwork; encourage collaboration both within and outside the organization; create formal and informal opportunities for staff to connect with one another; and offer opportunities to diversify job tasks.

Voices From the Field

We have a small group. Our strategy is to keep lines of communication open and to listen to each other. This may happen between two individuals or as a group. Nothing helps clear thoughts and feelings better than having others listen and validate you and to give feedback and support.

—Forensic Interviewer, Victim Services

A general culture of support and team cooperation are critical. No one should ever feel like all the responsibility is on one person; that way we always know we can turn to each other for support. Just knowing we are not alone in our choices or in our dedication to helping survivors makes all the difference in stress levels.

—Advocate/Community Outreach Organizer, Victim Services

What the Research Literature Tells Us

Work culture describes the environment and tone of the organization. Feeling included, connected, accepted, and respected creates a safe and supportive environment that decreases the negative impact of vicarious trauma on staff (Bell, Kulkarni, and Dalton 2003; Slattery and Goodman 2009).

Compendium of Resources

Featured Tool

Related Resources

To strive for professional competency, capacity, and staff retention, vicarious trauma-informed organizations promote continuing education, professional development, and networking opportunities; provide thorough orientation and ongoing training; enable access to resources; and support staff participation in on- and offsite learning opportunities.

Voices From the Field

Regular, ongoing training improves staff confidence in their job duties while decreasing their feelings of vulnerability to the effects of the work.

—Therapist/Trainer, Victim Services

We do a training on boundaries and ethics, and I think this is important as it allows advocates and therapists to hear and experience what real members of their team have come up against and then offers the tools to transition beyond the trauma, address self-care, and encourage employee retention and happiness.

—Domestic Violence Therapist, Victim Services

What the Research Literature Tells Us

Training on vicarious trauma benefits participants and the populations they serve, and facilitates change in the organization (Gentry, Baggerly, and Baranowsky 2003; Mishara and Martin 2012).

Compendium of Resources

Featured Tool

Related Resources

To maintain the health and wellness of their staff, vicarious trauma-informed organizations recognize links between health/wellness and staff satisfaction and productivity; devote time and resources to promoting staff well-being; encourage and provide health and wellness activities; and incorporate wellness into policies and practices.

Voices From the Field

We have a scheduled mental health day monthly, have ongoing trainings related to this topic, and have supportive staff, as the work we do can be exhausting and takes a toll at times if one is not attentive to it.

—Therapist, Children's Advocacy Center, Victim Services

Allowing flexibility in work schedules and leave have allowed me to use leave time to meet my mental health needs due to vicarious trauma. There have been days for me that coming to work, especially after very difficult cases, has been hard. Using my flexible schedule or leave has allowed me to debrief or have time to relax before coming in to work so that I am more able to handle what needs to happen next.

—Case Worker, Child Protective Services

Maintaining an open and flexible environment [is key] when it comes to dealing with trauma. I feel that there is always someone I can talk with about my experiences, and I feel that I am always welcome to take time off if I need it. Because of this, I feel that nothing I come across is ever more than I can handle.

—Advocate, Victim Services

What the Research Literature Tells Us

Increasingly, organizations are recognizing that they can improve overall staff health by providing access to wellness activities, such as fitness, yoga, and mindfulness programs; and by supporting boundaries between work and home. For example, mindfulness programs have been found to increase compassion satisfaction and decrease compassion fatigue (Thieleman and Cacciatore 2014).

Compendium of Resources

Featured Tool

Related Resources

 

 

Compendium of Resources

Each of the over 500 listings in the Compendium of Resources includes the resource title, source, and author or developer, as well as a general description identifying the category, discipline, organizational strategy, topic, and CDC code, if applicable. Research literature items include full bibliographical citations.

Blueprint for a Vicarious Trauma-Informed Organization

For a step-by-step guide to strengthening your organization's response to vicarious trauma by using this toolkit, see the Blueprint for a Vicarious Trauma-Informed Organization.