Secondary traumatic stress and vicarious post-traumatic growth among social workers who have worked with abused children

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Summary: Working with abused children can have positive and negative implications for social workers. Some of these implications have been conceptualized as secondary traumatic stress and vicarious post-traumatic growth. The current study examined the question of whether these two phenomena share similar contributing factors. Based on the social-ecological theory and previous studies on secondary traumatic stress, we examined the contribution of personal factors and level of exposure to trauma (i.e. years of work experience, professional exposure to child abuse, mastery) and environmental factors (i.e. social support, supervision, and role stress) to the explained variance of secondary traumatic stress and post-traumatic growth, with the goal of understanding these two potential outcomes. This cross-sectional study comprised 255 social workers who worked with abused children. Findings: The results showed that despite the correlation between the two outcomes—post-traumatic growth and secondary traumatic stress—they shared only one common predictive factor: the extent of social workers’ exposure to abused children. Role stress was correlated positively, and mastery was correlated negatively, with secondary traumatic stress only. Years of work experience was correlated positively with post-traumatic growth only. Applications: The current study shows the importance of continuing efforts to identify the factors that contribute to post-traumatic growth. At the same time, efforts should be made to foster certain personal and environmental factors to reduce secondary traumatic stress levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-187
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Social Work
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

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  • Social work
  • child abuse
  • child protection
  • social service
  • social workers
  • stress


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