Comprehensive, Culturally Approriate, and Competency-Based Workforce Development.

Trauma-Informed Care

What is Trauma-Informed Care (TIC)?

TIC is an organizational practice framework that involves understanding, recognizing and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. TIC emphasizes physical, psychological and emotional safety for both consumers and providers, and helps rebuild a sense of control and empowerment. California Child Welfare agencies have at the root of their Core Practice Model and Safety Organized Practice, trauma-informed behaviors and tools that aid them in their work with children and families who have endured complex trauma.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) has defined the following as being Essential Elements of a Trauma-Informed Child Welfare System:

  1. Maximize physical and psychological safety for children and families.
  2. Identify trauma-related needs of children and families.
  3. Enhance child well-being and resilience.
  4. Enhance family well-being and resilience.
  5. Enhance the well-being and resilience of those working in the system.
  6. Partner with youth and families.
  7. Partner with agencies and systems that interact with children and families


Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) Essential Elements


What is Secondary Trauma-Informed Care?

Secondary trauma, also known as compassion fatigue and/or vicarious trauma, is a natural but disruptive by-product for professionals who work with traumatized clients. It is a set of observable reactions to working with people who have been traumatized and mirrors the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Child welfare workers are at heightened risk of experiencing secondary traumatic stress (STS), with some studies showing a rate of up to 50%. Symptoms may include feelings of isolation, anxiety, dissociation, physical ailments and sleep disturbances.

An organization’s recognition and understanding of secondary traumatic stress, its effect on staff both personally and professionally, and how to alleviate its impact is necessary in order to have a healthy and sustainable workforce. Unattended STS can decrease staff functioning and create challenges in the working environment. Some of the documented negative organizational effects that can result from STS are increased absenteeism, impaired judgment, low productivity, poorer quality of work, higher staff turnover, and greater staff friction.

Addressing STS needs to occur at both the individual and organizational levels. Workers can adopt lifestyle and work habits that help them maintain strong practice approaches and personal boundaries that can be protective in nature and resiliency building. For individual and organizational strategies, please see the sections below.


Individual Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) Prevention Strategies

  • Life balance – work to establish and maintain a diversity of interests, activities and relationships.
  • Relaxation techniques – ensure downtime by practicing meditation or guided imagery.
  • Contact with nature – garden or hike to remain connected to the earth and help maintain perspective about the world.
  • Creative expression – things like drawing, cooking, or photography expand emotional experiences.
  • Assertiveness training – learn to be able to say “no” and to set limits when necessary.
  • Interpersonal communication skills – improve written and verbal communication to enhance social and professional support.
  • Cognitive restructuring – regularly evaluate experiences and apply problem-solving techniques to challenges.
  • Time management – set priorities and remain productive and effective.
  • Plan for coping – determine skills and strategies to adopt or enhance when signs of compassion fatigue begin to surface.
  • Focusing on self-care – making a healthy diet, exercise, and regular sleep priorities reduces adverse stress effects.
  • Journaling – writing about feelings related to helping or care giving and about anything that has helped or been comforting can help make meaning out of negative experiences.
  • Seeking professional support – working with a counselor who specializes in trauma to process distressing symptoms and experiences provides additional perspectives and ideas.
  • Joining a support group – talking through experiences and coping strategies with others who have similar circumstances can enhance optimism and hope.
  • Learning new self-care strategies – adopting a new stress management technique such as yoga or progressive muscle relaxation can reduce adverse physical stress symptoms.
  • Asking for help – asking social supports or co-workers to assist with tasks or responsibilities can hasten healing.
  • Recognizing success and creating meaning – identifying aspects of helping that have been positive and important to others assists with resolving trauma and distress.

Organizational Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) Strategies

  • Create an organizational culture that normalizes the effects of working with trauma survivors
  • Implement policies and procedures that promote and support staff self-care
  • Allow for diversified workloads and encourage professional development/movement
  • Create opportunities for staff to participate in social change and community outreach
  • Institute policies and practice that require regular, quality supervision
  • Ensure a psychologically and physically safe work environment
  • Provide STS education to and encourage open discussion of STS among staff and administrators
  • Encourage and make available counseling resources and Employee Assistance Programs for all staff

Trauma-Informed Care Resources


ChildTrauma Academy

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)

Child Welfare Information Gateway


Child welfare Trauma Training Toolkit 

Revised Child Welfare Trauma Training Toolkit


Developing a Trauma-Informed Child Welfare System

Trauma-Informed Care for Children Exposed to Violence: Tips for Child Welfare Staff

Birth Parents with Trauma Histories and the Child Welfare System: A guide for Child Welfare Staff 

Trauma and Families- A Fact Sheet for Providers

Secondary Trauma-Informed Care Resources

Resources for Workers

Professional Quality of Life Scale

Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale

Secondary Traumatic Stress: A Fact Sheet for Child-Serving Professionals

Resources for Organizations

Secondary Trauma and Child Welfare Staff: Guidance for Supervisors and Administrators

Using the Secondary Traumatic Stress Core Competencies in Trauma-Informed Supervision

STS informed Organization assessment (STSI-OA) Tool 

Vicarious Trauma Toolkit

The Sanctuary Model

The Resilience Alliance: Promoting Resilience and Reducing Secondary Trauma Among Welfare Staff – Training Manual

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