Abstract: Exploring Vicarious Resilience in Child Abuse Hotline Counselors before and during COVID-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Exploring Vicarious Resilience in Child Abuse Hotline Counselors before and during COVID-19

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Hospitality 2 - Room 444, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Marisol Diaz, PhD, Senior Research Analyst, Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center at Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Wendy Wolfersteig, PhD, Research Associate Professor, Director of Evaluation, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Diane Moreland, MS, Research Analyst, Arizona State University, AZ
Esther Gotlieb, MPH, Research Analyst, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Michelle Fingerman, MA, Director, Childhelp, Scottsdale, AZ
Background/Purpose: Hotline crisis counselors witness trauma in others, leaving them vulnerable to compassion fatigue and burnout. Vicarious resilience can counterbalance the harmful effects of trauma work and help individuals avoid vicarious traumatization. This study explores the phenomenon of vicarious resilience (VR) among Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD) counselors and focuses on their professional experiences while implementing new hotline services (text and chat) before and during the pandemic. For more than 60 years, Childhelp has served children, families and those seeking help in the prevention, intervention, and treatment of child abuse and neglect. An integral part of Childhelp is their National Child Abuse Hotline, staffed 24/7, 365 days a year by professional crisis counselors. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline became more of a lifeline for children, families, and survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing up to 43% increase in calls. Daily, these hotline crisis counselors witness trauma in others, leaving them vulnerable to burnout. The recent implementation of text and chat in 2019 has allowed the counselors to hear from a more youthful group of help-seekers; however, it has also introduced new issues of concern brought on by the pandemic and its ripple effects.

Methods: This 36-month qualitative study used Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to closely examine Childhelp Hotline Counselor professional and VR experiences. Data from six focus groups were collected over three years. One focus group in 2019, two in 2020, and three focus groups in 2021. All 26 participants were National Child Abuse Hotline counselors and supervisors. NVIVO was used for the analysis.

Results: Analysis of the focus group transcriptions included a single case analysis that looked at each year and a cross-case analysis to look at themes generated by analyzing all years together. Themes of resilience, workspace, and healing found that the hotline counselors shared positive experiences and personal growth from their work with help-seekers, with implications of advocating for self-care not as an individual issue but a social justice issue. Presenting their stories can advance the concept of VR, trauma-informed practices healing justice, and, most importantly, how VR can contribute to sustaining and empowering helping professionals in challenging times.

Conclusions/Implications: In this time of crisis and extreme stressors, hotline services are being used more than ever making it vital to identify the positive experiences of helping others with trauma. VR serves as a protective factor in many ways that allow the counselors to stay calm in the face of others’ suffering and enjoy their job and find it meaningful. Providing awareness on VR and how it can be used as a protective measure will be essential for future challenges. These study results may be used in training that can kindle positive social and cultural change that will improve and sustain the well-being of helping professionals.