Guardians ad Litem and Secondary Trauma

by Kelle Gilmore, CASA Staff Attorney and Guadian ad LitemKelle2

As professionals working in the child welfare field, we have to be cognizant that helping others who have been survivors of traumatic life events often puts us in an environment where we need to take steps to take care of our own mental, physical, and emotional health.

Secondary trauma, sometimes referred to as vicarious trauma, is described as the cumulative transformative effect of working with survivors of traumatic life events.  Individuals working in the child welfare field often experience stress or symptoms of trauma when working with traumatized children and families.

What are some common symptoms of secondary trauma?

  • intrusive thoughts
  • chronic fatigue
  • sadness
  • anger
  • poor concentration
  • second guessing
  • detachment
  • emotional exhaustion
  • fearfulness
  • shame
  • physical illness
  • absenteeism

Some days are harder than others, but secondary trauma usually occurs after the culmination of bad days, weeks, months or even years.  As Guardians ad Litem, and even as CASA volunteers, we must remember to take care of ourselves first.  If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, reach out for help from other GAL’s or mental health professionals.  Spend time with other GAL’s to decompress, vent, or find solutions to issues that are bothering you.  We have a fantastic local resource here in Kansas City: And nationally:  Working in an environment that is supportive of collaboration with other GAL’s and child welfare advocates really does help.

We can’t fix everything for the children and families we work with, which is often frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking.  I have found that exercising, making time to socialize with other GAL’s, and meeting with my individual therapist can provide much needed support in keeping me healthy so I can represent kids more effectively.  We have to take care of ourselves in order to be able to take care of the children we serve.

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