Taking care of the caretakers

Trauma can have life-long consequences.   

We see the effects every day: trauma from leaving home and family, trauma from abuse or neglect, trauma from a family member’s mental illness or substance use, trauma from living in poverty.  

We never lose sight of this. I ask our workforce to respond accordingly: “Treat people kindly and not judgmental; you never know what they are going through or what brought them to us.”

But what about those very same workers? Our more than 800 JFS workers not only suffer through traumatic experiences of their own, but they take on the traumatic events of the families and children they serve. From the public assistance worker who helps a domestic violence victim escape a scary situation to the children’s services worker who watches a parent they have gotten to know over months or years die from overdose, trauma is a regular part of the job.  

Over the past year, we have increased efforts to help our employees deal with trauma. Innovative efforts begun in our Children’s Services division are intended to spread throughout the building to workers in other areas.

Our internal behavioral health expert is overseeing two new efforts. First, we contracted with Central Clinic’s Family Access to Integrated Recovery (FAIR) program to help Children’s Services workers deal with the trauma of the job. An on-site behavioral health consultant – herself a former Children’s Services worker — will collaborate with our internal behavioral health team to offer guidance on specific cases as well as support staff who are impacted by secondary trauma.

A certified trauma practitioner, this consultant is employed externally and not part of the internal hierarchy; her meetings with workers are confidential and voluntary.

The second effort involves two trauma coordinators focused on creating a community of support and strength. They are on board to help workers process stress in healthier ways. For example, they have created physical spaces where staff can unplug and decompress.

More importantly, they are conducting resilience training in group settings to educate staff about secondary traumatic success and help them develop strategies and techniques for mitigation.

These Resilience Alliance groups are part of an overall effort, called Coach Ohio, to retain quality workers. This workforce intervention was implemented in Ohio by the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development. The center chose Ohio as one of its eight national study sites for interventions that help child welfare workers feel more supported and successful, thereby reducing worker turnover.

The Resilience Alliance intervention is structured around cultivating well-being and building on a person’s pre-existing strengths. The intervention helps identify normal responses to trauma and assists workers in regulating their emotions.

I am certain these two efforts will have a positive effect on our staff. And, we won’t stop there. I’m determined to find strategies to support employees who, daily, see people in their worst situations. I say it often – we are similar to first responders and experience similar trauma. We must take care of our own, so they can take care of others.

by Jane Prendergast

Filed Under: From the Director

Tagged: Child Support, Children's Services, coach ohio, Elder abuse, employment, food assistance, food stamps, hamilton county department of job and family services, hamilton county job and family services, medicaid, moira weir, quality improvement center for workforce development, resilience, resilience alliance, retention, secondary trauma, trauma, Workforce Development