Session: Social Work Practice in District Attorney Offices: Understanding Experiences of Stress and Trauma (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

37 Social Work Practice in District Attorney Offices: Understanding Experiences of Stress and Trauma

Thursday, January 11, 2018: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
Independence BR G (ML 4) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: Crime and Criminal Justice
Ovita Williams, MSW, Columbia University
Vicarious trauma (VT) and secondary traumatic stress (STS) are phenomena often shared by professionals helping trauma survivors. Social workers practicing in district attorney's offices are exposed to high levels of severe criminal case narratives, violence and trauma. Social workers provide counseling and advocacy services in prosecutor's offices throughout the United States delivering a critical service by ensuring victims and survivors have a safety plan, accessing multiple resources for survivors, sharing information about cases with other professionals, and managing trauma to help rebuild lives. This work occurs within the complex setting of legal institutions and criminal law. Various stressors in the criminal legal system include managing ethical dilemmas, such as client confidentiality, and observing institutionalized systems of oppression, including racism, which may impact the worker. The secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma narratives of forensic practitioners will be discussed from this context by a social worker who spent ten years working in a prosecutor's office and is currently completing a dissertation on this topic. The presenter will provide participants with an overview of social work practice within the criminal legal (justice) system. The presentation will focus on trauma for the worker, which encompasses managing multiple ethical dilemmas, contrasting principles between social workers and criminal law professionals, institutionalized racism, all while supporting the often marginalized communities that are served by this system. Participants will be provided a critical analysis of the importance of training social workers to practice within the legal systems and expanding a knowledge base to include forensic training and management of worker exposure to trauma. In break out groups, participants will discuss issues of power, privilege and oppression by analyzing common challenges faced by social workers practicing within the criminal legal (justice) system, and exploring possible strategies for successful resolution. In small group discussions, using a case example, participants will examine such issues as maintaining client confidentiality, autonomy, social justice, and balancing social work ethics vs legal principles. Audience questions and responses will end the ninety-minute workshop session.
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