Child Welfare Division Workers Embrace Peer Support After Traumatic Events


The work of a child welfare professional is immensely rewarding. They support children and families in need. They facilitate family reunifications, and they get to see children flourish and grow when they receive support. 

It can also be enormously challenging for child welfare professionals to witness the trauma and grief of children and families, and after particular incidences or even over time, this can become harmful.  

To support workers through these difficult experiences, the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS), Child Welfare Division has implemented a new tool to support workers.  The Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) model, once used for soldiers returning from battle in World War 1, has now been adapted for Oregon’s Child Welfare workforce. Since it was implemented by the Division in July 2020, nearly 250 staff have been supported through individual or group sessions. 

Child Welfare staff Amy Hinkle, Amber McClelland, and Michelle Zurcher are currently trained facilitators, and more will join the team soon. These three facilitators have worked in the Division for years as caseworkers, central office staff, and training facilitators. 

Hinkle says she first started exploring CISM in 2018 after two workers died by suicide. Local offices began a series of conversations around high levels of stress and increased support for workplace well-being. 

“Local branches were recognizing the need for formal support for our workforce,” Hinkle said. “The work is hard day-to-day, dealing with the courts, going into people’s homes at their most challenging times, and dealing with families in trauma. The work can affect everyone involved: workers who see case reports come across their desks, those who interact directly with families and children, those who see critical injuries or review a child fatality, or anyone doing this work who is also dealing with the trauma of their own.”

CISM is used by many Oregon first responders including firefighters, emergency personnel, and law enforcement. 

Workers are invited to participate in CISM support sessions either individually or in a group when a traumatic event is reported, or when a worker reaches out for support. Participants can choose which setting is best for them, and all information shared during the support sessions is confidential. Participants also receive personalized resources and advocacy to support their specific needs. 

In addition to the work-related issues, the team has helped workers who have had family members die of COVID-19, people struggling to balance childcare and work, and those seeking further connection to employee resource groups and other health supports. One participant shared, “In this line of work, it’s good to have reminders to take care of yourself. The work is always there, your to-do list is never done, and it is sometimes easier to just push through and do the work than to pause and take the time for self-care.”

About Author

Sunny Petit is a Press Secretary in the Communications Office at the Oregon Department of Human Services.

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