July 2022|Volume 10, Issue 3
A quarterly research brief from the
Center on Trauma and Children
Secondary Traumatic Stress and Trauma-Informed Care Utilization in School Personnel
Sprang, G., Garcia, A. (2022). An Investigation of Secondary Traumatic Stress and Trauma-Informed Care Utilization in School Personnel. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma. Advanced online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-022-00465-2 
Child traumatic stress has been shown to negatively affect student outcomes, and trauma-informed care practices are increasingly being used in schools to address the impact of this stress among the student population (1,2). Often these interventions are limited to students. Most schools do not apply this trauma-informed model to staff who may experience indirect trauma as a result of providing care to students, resulting in symptoms of secondary traumatic stress (STS) (3,4). Little is known about how implementation of trauma-informed care strategies impact STS symptoms in school personnel.  
The Study

This study investigates the impact that a trauma-informed care program may have on the severity of STS symptoms among school personnel. A sample (N=205) of school personnel were asked to complete a survey before and at completion of a Trauma Informed Practices for Educators (TIPE) learning collaborative, based upon the model created by Harris and Fallot. Survey respondents were mostly female (83%), had an average of 14 years of experience, and were primarily school based mental health providers and social workers (41%), teachers (21.5%), or administrators (21%). The responses to the cloud-based survey were linked to participants by a unique code, enabling pre and post intervention change to be determined. The survey used the 21-item Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale (STSS) for DSM-5 (5) and the 26-item Trauma Sensitive Schools Checklist (TSSC) (6). The STSS assesses respondents’ symptom levels in four domains associated with indirect trauma exposure (intrusion, avoidance, alterations in cognition and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity). The TSSC shows the extent to which school culture is progressing towards becoming trauma-sensitive across five domains (school-wide policies and practices, classroom strategies and techniques, collaborations and linkages with mental health resources, family partnerships, and community linkages).  
The results support the hypothesis that participants with significant improvement in TSSC scores from baseline to follow up and would show a reduction in symptoms of STS over time. Additionally, a significant association between TSSC scores and STS symptoms of intrusion and arousal was found, indicating that professionals who are experiencing high levels of STS symptoms do not show improved TSSC scores. While this study identified an association between STS symptoms of intrusion and arousal and the use of trauma informed practices, there was no association found between other domains (alterations in cognition and mood, avoidance).  
Translational Tips
  • Participation in the trauma-informed care initiative was positively associated with decreased secondary traumatic stress symptom severity, suggesting that learning trauma-informed care skills is related to enhanced personal well-being in school personnel. 
  • The dysregulation associated with secondary traumatic stress, especially intrusion and arousal may lead school personnel to be less able to implement trauma-informed care practices. Schools that implement trauma-informed care may find increased adoption and implementation if they offer staff more resources that support positive, in-the-moment coping to reduce STS symptoms.  
  • School personnel may be enhancing their well-being as their self-regulation skills and confidence in dealing with problem behaviors increases, and as they build healthier relationships with peers and students.  
  1. Alisic, E., Bus, M., Dulack, W., Pennings, L., & Splinter, J. (2012). Teachers’ experiences supporting children after traumatic exposure. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25(1), 98–101.  
  2. Mendelson, T., Tandon, S. D., O’Brennan, L., Leaf, P. J., & Ialongo, N. S. (2015). Brief report: Moving prevention into schools: The impact of a trauma-informed school-based intervention. Journal of Adolescence, 43, 142–147. 
  3. Motta, R. (2020). Secondary trauma in children and school personnel. In Addressing Multicultural Needs in School Guidance and Counseling (pp. 65–81). IGI Global. 
  4. Sprang, G., Whitt-Woosley, A., & Eslinger, J. (2021). Diagnostic and Translational Utility of the Secondary Traumatic Stress Clinical Algorithm (STS-CA). Journal of interpersonal violence, 08862605211044961. 
  5. Bride, B. E. (2013). The Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale, DSM 5 Revision. Unpublished Manuscript. 
  6. Lesley University, & Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. (2012). Trauma-Sensitive School Checklist. https://vtss-ric.vcu.edu/media/vtss-ric/documents/trauma-modules/Trauma-Sensitive-School-Checklist.docx