How does their work with trauma-impacted children affect the helpers?

Children and young people who have had significant, life-altering traumatic experiences are in our classrooms. They are patients of medical and clinical practices and in hospital emergency rooms. They are on the caseloads of social workers and clinicians, in courtrooms and in families.

The dedicated child-workforce devoted to caring for these children is overwhelmed by the sheer volume and depth of their needs. Especially devastating are the consequences for those who are in child protection roles and teachers. Exposure to large numbers of young people with trauma leads to their own stress and fatigue. They are at risk of experiencing a secondary type of trauma.

Many professionals lack the knowledge to even talk with children about adoption and foster care. At the same time they are faced with helping children who experience terrible abuse and other traumatic experiences.

The National Traumatic Stress Network reports “6% to 26% of therapists working with traumatized populations, and up to 50% of child welfare workers, are at high risk for secondary traumatic stress or the related conditions of PTSD and vicarious trauma.”

Addressing staff turnover is one of the child welfare system’s greatest challenges. Child welfare professionals are susceptible to burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress.

Numerous national studies report child welfare staff turnover at between 20-40%. Here in Rhode Island, it is estimated that more than 60% of the child welfare workforce has less than 3 years on the job.


Attracting and retaining excellent educators is one of the most important drivers of a well-functioning education system.

For teachers, who are directly exposed to a large number of young people with trauma in their work, secondary trauma is a big risk. School Administrators and Principals are not only requesting additional mental health services for their students, they are also seeking support for their staff.

COVID-19 Impact

Both children and the workforce charged with their care are experiencing added stress and trauma impacts due to the pandemic.

Stress from the COVID-19 pandemic can easily multiply problems for children who have experienced trauma in their young lives. It is stress provoking for all children. Concerns about the pandemic, anxiety and fear about contracting COVID-19, confinement, social and physical distancing and for some, financial stressors in families, are likely to increase the risk of multiple traumatic events and complex trauma among children and youth.

Many child-serving professionals are experiencing additional stress in performing their roles during COVID-19. They may have their own underlying medical issues, be caring for children or parents with health care concerns and/or have added stress due to experiencing grief and loss of family members who have lost their lives due to COVID-19.