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Vicarious Traumatization Among Child Welfare and Child Protection Professionals: A Systematic Review

NCJ Number
Child Abuse & Neglect Volume: 110 Dated: December 2020
B. E. Molnar; et al
Date Published
December 2020

This article reports on a review of research literature on the epidemiology of vicarious traumatization among child welfare professionals.


Many individuals and organizations experience vicarious trauma, defined as exposure to traumatic experiences of others. Those who work with children traumatized by abuse and/or neglect, including, but not limited to, child welfare, child protection, counselors, healthcare providers, advocates, law enforcement, and prosecutors investigating crimes against children, are exposed to traumatic stories daily in their work. Negative reactions to this witnessing of other people’s trauma results in vicarious traumatization (also referred to as secondary traumatic stress), which can manifest as mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, work-related, and/or social consequences. In the current review of research literature on the epidemiology of vicarious traumatization among child welfare professionals, a systematic search strategy was employed, using relevant research databases (PubMed, PsychInfo, PILOTS, and EBSCO) for publications from 1995 to 2018. A four-phase PRISMA selection process was employed. Search terms included vicarious trauma/related terms and child welfare/child protection professions. Trained reviewers considered articles meeting inclusion criteria including: (1) child welfare professions; (2) vicarious traumatization/related terms; and (3) analysis of epidemiological data on prevalence, risk/protective factors, or manifestation of vicarious traumatization. Initially 7,895 unique manuscripts were identified. After multi-stage screening, a total of 39 articles were included. Findings regarding the epidemiology of vicarious traumatization are summarized. Although exposure to traumatic narratives of those they serve is inevitable for those working in child welfare and child protection professions, the growing research base shows potential for preventing negative impacts and promoting positive outcomes of this empathic work. Identification of additional risk/protective factors and future development and evaluation of evidence-based interventions are important next steps. (publisher abstract modified)