Secondary Trauma and Burnout in Child Protection Workers: Implications for Preparation of Social Workers
Sally Hill Jones, PhD, Texas State University-San Marcos.
Social workers are professionally and personally changed by their work with traumatized clients. Through empathy with the primary victim of trauma, helpers are themselves at risk for traumatic effects. Secondary traumatic stress (STS), also termed compassion fatigue (Figley, 1995; Figley & Stamm, 1996), conceptualizes post-traumatic symptomatology, while the term Vicarious Trauma (VT) describes changes in the helper's cognitive frame (McCann & Pearlman, 1990). Organizational factors are primary in the concept of burnout (Maslach & Jackson, 1986). Child protection service work, characterized by hearing accounts of, seeing evidence of, and making decisions about child abuse and neglect for large caseloads with inadequate resources, lends itself to secondary trauma and burnout. As such, more specific knowledge in these areas could help prevent and ease symptoms for affected workers. The author completed a preliminary study of secondary trauma and burnout in a convenience sample of 129 child protection service workers, using established instruments for Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), Vicarious Trauma (VT), and Burnout, as well as a survey capturing personal trauma history. The extent of STS, VT, and Burnout, the relationships of demographic, work, and personal trauma history variables, as well as intent to leave, to STS, VT, and Burnout scores were measured using t-tests, correlations, and multiple regression statistics. The author will review the overall results, which indicate high levels of secondary trauma, vicarious trauma and burnout, which were significantly related to caseload, hours worked, and job threats, but had little relationship with demographic variables. The author will then focus on the education variable. The only significant relationships with education were that those with Master's degrees in any field had significantly less Vicarious Trauma scores and Burnout scores on one measure, and higher Compassion Satisfaction and Personal Accomplishment scores than those with only Bachelor's degrees. The degree discipline had little relationship to levels of STS, VT, or Burnout. Education was not a significant factor in multiple regression equations. These findings suggest the need for more effective education and training of social workers to increase awareness of the risks for secondary trauma, vicarious trauma, and burnout, as well as recognition, prevention, and treatment of symptoms related to these phenomena. These implications will be discussed, along with some recommendations for incorporating education about these risks into social work curriculum. Figley, C. R. (Ed.). (1995). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. New York: Brunner/Mazel. Figley, C. R. & Stamm, B. H. (1996). Review of the compassion fatigue self-test. In B. H. Stamm (Ed.), Measurement of trauma, stress, and adaptation. Lutherville, MD: Sidran Press. Maslach, C. & Jackson, S. E. (1986). The Maslach burnout inventory: Manual (2nd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press. McCann, L. & Pearlman, L. (1990). Vicarious traumatization: A framework for understanding the psychological effects of working with victims. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3, 131-149.