Today is World Mental Health Day. This year's theme is "The Great Push: Investing in Mental Health," with a call for governments and others to invest in policies and approaches for removing barriers to mental health services and investing in prevention efforts as a cost-savings measure. In observance of this day, I feel it is important to highlight the need for policies that address the risk of child welfare workers developing secondary traumatic stress as a result of their day-to-day work; situations which may cause this include removing a child from his/her home due to abuse or neglect, the death of a child (whether on one's caseload or not), or threats/acts of verbal or physical violence by a client or community member.
Symptoms of STS are similar to those of post-secondary traumatic stress (PTSD) disorder, and include:
- Not being able to leave work at work;
- Overwhelming guilt;
- Anxiety about one's own children; and
- Sleep issues & fatigue.
Although there is not a lot of research conducted on STS in the child welfare field, those who have written about it recommend that agencies develop policies addressing STS as an occupational hazard in the child welfare field. Policy ideas include:
- The development of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and good mental health insurance coverage;
- Ongoing education and training for child welfare workers on STS and coping strategies;
- The use of peer support teams; and
- Ongoing training for supervisors so they can provide effective and adequate supervision.
To date, there are no prominent state or federal policies that specifically address STS among workers in the child welfare system (although the Child Abuse Prevention
and Treatment Act indirectly addresses STS by providing grants to states for projects related to recruitment and retention of child welfare workers). Related to this issue is the fact that the child welfare system as a whole (including mental health services for those involved in this system) suffers from inadequate federal and state funding, impeding policymakers' abilities to address issues such as STS.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you (or someone you know) suffer from STS? How would you address STS in the workforce, if you were a policymaker or an agency director?