Assessing the level of secondary traumatic stress experienced by children’s advocacy center employees

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Rakestraw, Dulcinea
Burdsal, Charles A.

At work, employees of children’s advocacy centers (CACs) are routinely exposed to the trauma experienced by the children they help. This secondary exposure to trauma can elicit responses similar to, or meeting diagnostic criteria for, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This phenomenon is often referred to as secondary traumatic stress (STS). This study sought to 1) assess the level of STS experienced by CAC employees, 2) assess how the employees’ perceptions of organizational support, their levels of coping resiliency, and their perceptions of teamwork are related to the level of STS experienced, and 3) identify specific predictors of STS in this population. An online, self-report survey was sent to CAC employees in Kansas, Michigan, and North Dakota. In total, 129 CAC employees participated. The level of STS experienced by CAC employees in this study was M = 39.44 (SD = 10.57), which is comparably higher than what has been found in similar studies, indicating the level of STS experienced by CAC employees is high. There were not many differences found across demographics or in relation to the measures studied. Multiple regression was used to assess the ability of level of perceived organizational support, perception of teamwork, and number of years spent working with victims of child abuse and neglect to predict levels of STS. The model explained 32% of the variance in STS, F(3, 61) = 10.93, p < 0.001. The biggest predictor of STS was level of perceived organizational support. This aligns with other research which has also found a negative correlation between organizational support and reported STS. Based on this study, it is clear STS is an issue for CAC employees and that CACs would benefit from understanding the critical role that their support plays in mitigating or addressing STS. Further studies which examine the impact of direct exposure to traumatic events or which measure changes in level of STS over time may be helpful in further understanding STS.

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Thesis (Ph.D.)-- Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Psychology