I had the privilege of sitting with over 20 professionals whose organizations deal with trauma-impacted clients. These were talented, compassionate and diligent leaders who see the value of developing systems that provide safe and trauma-informed environments for their staff and clients. I presented some of Lakeside’s training opportunities but also sat in on their conversations about some of the challenges they and their staff face.
One of the issues is the significant amount of workload that is mandated on those who have the responsibility to investigate and process abuse or neglect. Conscientious staff members have a very difficult time breaking away from stacks of work where there is potential abuse or neglect so that they can receive trauma training or even take time to self-regulate. We find this reality to be glaringly apparent when dealing with staff who are overloaded with work that has aggressive timelines. There is an inherent sense of responsibility for their clients and some expectations from their governing bodies that they have to comply with time sensitive issues as mandated. In other words, with the demands on their work performance there is little or no time for self-care or training.
Another issue that was discussed was the role of leadership in helping their staff take time to go to self-care events. It is more of a complex issue than one would think. There is somewhat of a perceived conflict between the accountability for work and the need for self-care and/or co-regulation of staff. Supervisors have the responsibility to ensure that staff are adequately productive with intense case management while also caring for the staff by encouraging that they take care of their own secondary trauma needs. There is somewhat of a double-bind that supervisors and leadership face as they must achieve organizational goals while maintaining a healthy staff.
A third area that was surfaced was the issue of staff needs and confidentiality. This is a bit ticklish because staff who admit to their supervisory staff of being dysregulated due to an extensive caseload are also being evaluated by that same supervisory staff. How does a supervisor help a staff member who is vicariously traumatized without that information having an impact on that staff member’s job performance evaluation? It is an inherent conflict in the system that takes a great deal of wisdom to work through.
Another struggle is about staff members not being able to attend activities that are purposed to help them in their self-care. So many staff are exhausted and have other home responsibilities and don’t have time to allow for self-care activities.
I was positively moved by these professionals because of the commitment to trauma-informed care and their compassion for their staff. However, the internal and pragmatic struggles that are inherent in how people relate in organizations makes this very challenging.
It is not enough to simply create a trauma-informed paradigm shift in an organization. We must also develop intuitive wisdom and intentionality about how we create the relational integrity, trust and safety while keeping our systems of care functioning with effectiveness. This is a significant set of challenges for every trauma-informed organization and system.