Managing Trauma in the Workplace
eBook - ePub

Managing Trauma in the Workplace

Supporting Workers and Organisations

Noreen Tehrani, Noreen Tehrani

  1. 352 Seiten
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Managing Trauma in the Workplace

Supporting Workers and Organisations

Noreen Tehrani, Noreen Tehrani

Angaben zum Buch

Über dieses Buch

Managing Trauma in the Workplace looks at the impact of trauma not only from the perspective of the employees but also from that of their organisations. In addition to describing the negative outcomes from traumatic exposure it offers solutions which will not only build a more resilient workforce but also lead to individual and organisational growth and development.

This book has contributions from international experts working in a variety of professions including teaching, the military, social work and human resources. It is split into four parts which explore:

  • the nature of organisational trauma
  • traumatized organisation and business continuity
  • organisational interventions
  • building resilience and growth.

Managing Trauma in the Workplace is essential reading for anyone with responsibility to help and support workers involved in distressing and traumatic incidents as a victim, supporter or investigator.

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Part I
The nature of organisational trauma

Chapter 1
Child protection social work and secondary trauma

Kate Richardson


Although some of the issues discussed below may be relevant to other professionals, the term ‘social worker’ is used here to describe children and family social workers involved in child protection work.
This chapter focuses on the impact of child abuse on children and their families and how, in undertaking the safeguarding task, social workers can encounter experiences which contribute to compassion fatigue and burn-out. Social workers must probe and analyse the difficulties faced by children and families and communicate these issues to others. This work can involve significant contact with children and families in distress, a requirement to demonstrate empathy and a necessity to communicate the nature of another’s pain and suffering in an understandable form; this can be through the written or spoken word, for example, report writing or testimony.
Often there are difficult decisions to be made on the balance between welfare and risk, each of these areas being potentially life changing and possibly life threatening to children. The consequences of making a mistake are part of the daily tasks facing a child protection social worker. Conflict with families, colleagues and wider society is an ongoing feature of safeguarding work, resulting in part from the emotionally charged subject matter of dealing with children at risk. Additional pressures brought by changing systems, individual and organisational responses to stress, scarce resources and lack of competence of others and confidence in oneself can bring further confrontation and stress.


Children need to be able to participate, wherever possible, in decisions relating to their future. Amongst other tasks, there is an obligation for social workers to establish the wishes and feelings of children, so that their participation is achieved. Communicating with traumatized children can be emotionally demanding, particularly as children adopt methods of coping with trauma that may limit their ability to communicate effectively and appropriately. Where the children are young or have additional or special needs, the task may be even more difficult. Sometimes the way in which children express their emotion can be challenging, for example with children being aggressive, severely distressed or withdrawn. Understanding and interpreting these behaviours and interpreting the underlying communications are key skills in working with children.

Balancing welfare and safety

Children are entitled to participate in decisions about themselves but may be in positions where what they want may compromise their welfare, for example, children may not wish to be parted from an abusive parent, even when no other course of action can protect them. Social workers must often balance children’s wishes and feelings with their welfare and safety. In addition to ensuring that wishes and feelings are understood and the child’s safety and welfare needs are met, social workers have the task of communicating these matters to others, including courts, professional groups and other family members. This must on occasion be managed in the face of minimization of risks of harm to children and a lack of ability or willingness to do something to improve their circumstances. When this occurs, social workers can feel responsible for the vulnerable child, yet unsupported by the systems that are there to protect children, such as courts, multi-agency groups and, sometimes, their own managers. This can be an isolating and frustrating experience for social workers, which must nevertheless be managed in order to provide the best possible service for a child. It is a core task to ensure that the appropriate response to situations is provided and that it supports the recovery of a child and prevents further harm. Understanding and communicating the child’s circumstances to others is essential in securing that response. An example of this is the requirement to provide evidence of children’s circumstances, wishes and feelings when presenting a case to court, to ensure appropriate legal remedy and effective care planning. It is particularly important that social workers feel that they have represented what they consider to be the best possible means of securing a good outcome for a child, as they are very aware of the consequences for a child of getting it wrong. This awareness is heightened on a regular basis through work with children where good outcomes have not been achieved.
Where harm has been experienced or there is a threat to a child, it is the role of the social worker to determine the nature of the harm and the potential or real impact. In understanding the impact, it is necessary for the social worker to understand the pain, upset and hurt caused to a child, and the social worker must engage and develop a trusting relationship with the child and family, including with the adult who presents the risk. Working with these two conflicting sets of needs demonstrates the challenge that social workers face from the outset. Research has shown that better outcomes for children and families in child protection are positively influenced by a good relationship with the social worker (Department of Health, 1995).

Dealing with the trauma

Children and their families can be angry and confused about the abusive incident(s) and also by the invasive process deemed necessary to protect a child. There can be complex issues when those in a responsible or caring position have abused a child, and dealing with the stigma of child abuse situations can be a challenge for service users and social workers. Some children are exposed to horrific levels of physical, sexual and emotional violence and neglect that most members of the public may never have to witness in their lifetimes. For social workers, there is regular contact with the most intimate details of these traumatizing events, and they have the task of translating the effects and taking action to prevent a repetition and to facilitate the recovery of the child. It may be important that social workers do not show certain feelings or responses during interactions, as this can affect children and young people, making them feel a sense of wrongdoing or shame. This can be particularly true when dealing with sexual abuse issues. On many occasions social workers need to suspend their personal feelings, or at least contain them, in order to effectively carry out the social work task, as it would be unhelpful for the child or family member in crisis to be met with someone unable to manage and deal with the potential for the feelings of disgust, shame and embarrassment that they feel about child abuse. There can be a consequence of hiding true feelings in order to achieve a professional goal (Theodosius, 2006).

Public reactions to child abuse

The understanding that society abhors child abuse and those responsible for it can exacerbate negative feelings. Even where these issues have an impact on other children, societal reaction can be overwhelming. The very tragic circumstances of 2 year-old James Bulger’s murder in 1993 led to unprecedented outbursts of public anger against the 10 year-old boys responsible. Scenes of crowds attacking the transport that took the boys to court appeared on the news, with little coverage devoted to the impact upon them of such terrifying events. Following sentencing, petitions were circulated asking for the Home Secretary to intervene and exact more severe penalties. Anger and grief can drive this understandable need for demonstrative punishment and revenge. Our lack of understanding as to what motivates people to commit such terrible acts on the most vulnerable means that we are unlikely to ever find a punishment to fit the crime. This contributes to a level of frustration that in turn has a bearing on the need to find someone to blame. Where there has been social work intervention, which is charged with the protection of children, and this fails, the social worker can become the focus for some of the anger and the necessary means for the seeking of retribution. The call for social workers to lose their jobs and the media ‘name and shame’ is not unusual in high-profile cases.
The purported representation of the public view through a negatively critical media approach to child protection social workers is unrelenting. Media responses to high-profile cases have been almost overwhelmingly negative and aggressive in condemnation, even where other professions are considered to have missed opportunities to intervene. This has been particularly true when the death of a child may have been prevented by social care intervention. The media releases personal details of staff involved, photographs appear on newspaper front pages and television, and judgements are made on individuals’ personal values and professional competence. One newspaper reporting in 2008 on the tragic death of Baby Peter in the UK ran a campaign and established a petition to sack the social workers involved; over half a million people signed the petition in the biggest ever response to a newspaper campaign (The Sun, 2009). The same newspaper advertised for people to tell their stories if they knew any of the social workers involved in the case.

Secondary trauma and the social worker

It is reasonable to assume that those directly involved in the aftermath of a tragic case will suffer some degree of trauma. It is also reasonable to assume that those indirectly involved, for example colleagues working in the same department, will suffer some level of emotional stress. For those not involved but working in the same profession, there is an almost daily reminder of the precipice on which they stand as they make decisions about intervening in the lives of children. The following case study gives an example of those indirectly involved.
A social work team in a local authority had been depleted by long-term sickness. There had been a number of cases made subject to serious case review, which occurs when death or serious injury has been caused to a child and inter-agency working needs to be examined. The more experienced staff in the team were able to take long-term sick leave, but the less experienced social workers had not worked long enough to be entitled to pay in any long-term sickness situation. The team was therefore staffed by the least experienced members. The level of stress and worry of what was to come for the day was so frightening that two of the social workers were vomiting on their way into the office on a regular basis.
The issues affect social workers in different ways and the relevant personal factors and circumstances need to be explored to identify how to assist individual social workers facing difficulties. The consequence of the majority of people’s employment mistakes is unlikely to cause serious harm to a child, bringing about public castigation and media witch-hunt. The irony is that if children and families social workers were better supported, both publicly and professionally, they would be less likely to make the mistakes that create the environment in which they work.

Making difficult decisions

One of the most difficult areas of practice is the decision-making process involved in the removal of children from the family home. The benefits for children of staying with their families, and the benefits of their removal for short or longer-term periods must be acknowledged in the face of resistance by families and lack of appropriate resources to ensure good quality substitute care. Most decisions about children’s circumstances are made with input from multi-agency professionals; however, frequently it is the social worker who has the responsibility for carrying out the decision.
Making the wrong decision when considering welfare and safety issues for children can have disastrous consequences for the child, the family, the social worker and their colleagues and families. This is a conscious thought for effectively functioning social workers on a daily basis.
A colleague had worked with a family where there had b...