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Clackamas Women's Services, Family Justice Center get grant to ease 'vicarious trauma' among employees

COURTESY PHOTO: CLACKAMAS WOMEN'S SERVICES - Staff members of Clackamas Women's Services and their partner organizations will benefit from the Vicarious Trauma Response Initiative by focusing on taking care of their own well-being to be able to better perform for the victims they serve. Clackamas Women's Services and its partners at A Safe Place Family Justice Center recently received a $50,000 grant aimed at helping law enforcement and victim-service providers who experience vicarious trauma — daily, chronic exposure to victims of crime.

Melissa Erlbaum, executive director of Clackamas Women's Services, said her organization decided to apply for the Vicarious Trauma Response Initiative because of the strength in its partnership with the Family Justice Center and other organizations in Clackamas County that support victims of domestic and sexual violence. They are one of 12 sites nationally to be selected for the program and benefit from the grant award. PMG FILE PHOTO - Melissa Erlbaum, executive director of Clackamas Women's Services.

"Our partner organizations all really put the well-being and wellness of the victims that we serve first and really promote that as a value in the work that we do," Erlbaum said. "In order to be able to do that, we also have to make sure the well-being and wellness of our staff is also held at the highest value."

The big picture behind this new initiative is that organizations that address vicarious trauma among their staff are able to respond more effectively to both the needs of victims and to traumatic events in the community. Erlbaum said she believes that the more her organization and its partners can work to support their individual employees and collectively support one another, they're able to be more available, present and healthy when they support survivors seeking safety or experiencing trauma.

"Learning together is growing together. … Being able to have multiple different types of systems, nonprofit organizations and county departments working together to really unpack what it looks like to be exposed to trauma and exposed to hard situations on a daily basis, and how do we work together to support each other and move through that so we can show up be our best selves every day for this community," Erlbaum said.

Family Justice Center Director and Clackamas County Sheriff's Office Capt. Michael Copenhaver said he's particularly excited about this initiative providing the opportunity to promote wellness among the staff of various groups.

"We have a really unique history of collaboration here in Clackamas County, so we have all the right people at the table for this project," he said. "It involves the sheriff's office, the district attorney's office, Clackamas Women's Services and several others all dealing with this really heavy type of work dealing wth sexual violence, domestic violence, human trafficking, elder abuse and stalking, so we're excited once again to work together and focus on promoting these values of wellness."

According to Copenhaver, every staff member of the organizations that do this work are extremely talented in helping survivors of abuse and violence within the community. While employees help victims with personal safety and navigating the systems of law enforcement and the courts, employees sometimes don't do the self-care required to be able to hear about victims' traumatic experiences day in and day out. COURTESY PHOTO: A SAFE PLACE FAMILY JUSTICE CENTER - Staff at A Safe Place Family Justice Center will benefit from the vicarious trauma response initiative as partners of Clackamas Women's Services.

He said that one of the first steps in this initiative will be to look collectively at where organizations are falling short in terms of self-care strategies for their own employees and analyze how they can begin to do better.

"I hope this shows staff working in the county that we value them and our partnerships working at the Family Justice Center," Copenhaver said. "I think this will help us be a lot more responsible to the needs of our community. By determining things we can do for self-care and identifying what vicarious trauma means to us in practice, I think we can better respond to the needs of our community by being healthier ourselves."


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