Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue in residential care workers of traumatized children

Ireland, Carol Ann orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-7310-2903, keeley, Samuel, Lewis, Michael orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-5567-3569 and Bowden, Suzanne (2022) Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue in residential care workers of traumatized children. Abuse: An International Impact Journal, 3 (1). ISSN 2633-8742

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This research comprised of 13 face-to-face semi-structured interviews with residential care workers (seven males and six females), all based within the same UK residential care organisation, offering care for adolescents aged 11 to 17 years. Interviews focussed on the psychological impact of traumatic events on staff functioning. Findings noted that participants had been exposed to varied distressing and traumatic experiences, occurring within and outside their employment. Experiences included witnessing or being a victim of physical and sexual aggression, witnessing self-injury or suicidal behaviour, and reading about neglect, abuse, self-injury, suicidal behaviour, and physical and sexual aggression from residents’ histories. When considering the psychological impact on staff, qualitative analyses identified themes of emotional distress and interpersonal discord. Furthermore, increased exposure to a young person’s traumatic experience led to endurance being prioritised over emotional wellbeing, ineffective coping, and poor sleep hygiene. A reduction in the impact of exposure to a young person’s traumatic experiences related to emotional and proactive support from others, use of effective coping, and increased knowledge and preparation into distressing events. The findings are discussed in relation to the overall impact of trauma exposure on staff, protective factors, and suggestions for staff intervention to reduce and/or remove potential impact.

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