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Step 1. Lay the foundation for success

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Becoming vicarious trauma-informed requires—

  • a commitment by leadership and staff to establish an organizational response,
  • a designated individual or team to coordinate and guide the effort, and
  • open communication between leadership and staff throughout the process.

As you get started, consider how your unique organizational structure, decisionmaking processes, and varied work and communication styles will inform your effort.

Task 1a: Obtain Commitment to Establishing an Organizational Response

This begins with agency leadership and staff discussing the importance and organizational responsibility of addressing vicarious trauma, including—

  • understanding the occupational challenges to the health and well-being of individuals throughout the organization who are exposed to victims and violence,
  • recognizing the signs of the impact of vicarious trauma exposure within your organization,
  • proactively identifying available resources to address vicarious trauma at all levels of the organization,
  • committing human and financial resources to organizational responses,
  • identifying policies and practices already in place to address vicarious trauma, and
  • learning more about the resources available through the VTT, such as—
    • the free Compendium of Resources, a one-stop library of research and tools relevant to your discipline;
    • easy-to-use, discipline-specific, evidence-informed organizational assessment tools for identifying existing strengths and gaps, determining priorities, and developing an action plan; and
    • additional tools created specifically for the VTT, including a Leadership Series designed to help you obtain commitment from top leadership and throughout the agency, and a ready-to-use Introduction to Vicarious Trauma PowerPoint presentation with speaker notes to use to develop tailored trainings.

Task 1b: Designate an Individual or Team To Coordinate and Guide the Effort

Leadership should identify individuals within the organization who have the ability and responsibility to help inform, reach out to, and solicit input from staff for the overall process. Who and how many to select will depend on your organization’s size and structure.

Consider individuals who—

  • are knowledgeable about and responsible for the development of organizational policies, procedures, and programs (e.g., human resources, behavioral health, peer support, chaplaincy, training);
  • have varying levels of experience and influence (e.g., recent hires, early career, seasoned professionals) and can lend different perspectives (e.g., supervisors/managers, direct services/frontline staff, volunteers, administrative support);
  • reflect demographic diversity (e.g., in age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, education level, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, abilities);
  • have been employed a minimum of 1 year (as the VT–ORG assessment tool is based on experiences in the organization in the prior 6 months);
  • are existing “champions” of formal and/or informal responses to vicarious trauma;
  • are available for the duration of the assessment and planning process; and
  • may represent more than one of the above demographics.

Whether those responsible will be charged with making decisions or recommendations, it is important that they have the authority to—

  • meet regularly and complete tasks during work hours as part of their job duties,
  • conduct the VT–ORG assessment and prepare findings,
  • determine priorities and develop an action plan for approval and implementation,
  • implement the action plan and monitor progress, and
  • report regularly on progress to management and staff, reviewing and refining the action plan as needed.

Once identified and authorized to serve in this capacity, the individual(s) should meet and implement initial steps toward becoming a vicarious trauma-informed organization. Commitment and active participation by the individual or team will help ensure greater effectiveness of the overall response and its sustainability.

Suggested Agenda Items for First Meeting

  • Commitment of leadership.
  • Authorization to perform necessary responsibilities and coordinate and guide the effort.
  • Introduction to the VTT, including its purpose and contents.
  • Plan for using the VT–ORG to conduct an organizational assessment and monitor progress.
  • Realistic timelines for the overall process and schedule of meetings.
  • Next steps: Become familiar with the VTT; prepare for an introductory PowerPoint presentation for educating all staff about vicarious trauma and the VT–ORG.

Task 1c: Encourage Open Communication With Staff

Keeping management and staff informed throughout the process is essential. See the Sample Emails to Staff for suggestions on how to communicate about the organization’s plan to become vicarious trauma-informed with the assistance of the VTT.

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