Olympic Day is just one of the many themed dress-up days the Foster Care Team at Jewish Child & Family Services uses for team-building and reducing stress among the front line child-care workers and case managers in the Foster Care program.
Divorce, child abuse, separation anxiety…and that was just before lunch.
At JCFS, we actively embrace adults, families and children facing anxiety, depression, parenting concerns, family conflict and other life challenges. But what does that mean for the social workers, clinicians, child care workers and others who rely on compassion as a key ingredient to serve clients?
“It can lead to “Compassion Fatigue,” says Mary Jo Barrett of the Center for Contextual Change, who presented at a JCARES (Jewish Community Abuse Resources, Education and Solutions) training earlier this spring. Also called vicarious trauma or just plain old burnout, compassion fatigue is “the symptoms of fatigue we experience as a result of passionately and compassionately giving our healing, care and growth energy to others,” says Barrett.
“In our daily work and our personal lives, we are all managing expectations and obligations which can make us exceptionally vulnerable to stress,” says Charlotte Mallon, LCSW, Director of Training for Professional Staff at Jewish Child & Family Services and Coordinator of JCERT, the Jewish Community Emergency Resiliency Team. “Social supports and staying connected to others is important,” says Mallon, noting that isolation can lead to further stress. “Recognizing your own triggers and emotional and coping responses also can help in effectively managing stressful events.”
As can including self-care and team building as an integral part of the work environment.
Self-Care as a Workplace Value
“Part of the supervision model for Placement Services is self-care, making sure that we are all checking in with each other to see how we are feeling,” says Nancy Dorfman-Schwartz, JCFS Director of Placement Services, speaking of the child care workers and case managers who work with abused and neglected youth being served through JCFS’ Residential Group Homes, Foster Care and SOC/MAC.
“Our job is to provide things that parents would, like structure, teaching coping skills, getting the kids to school and doctor’s appointments, while also dealing with their different mental health diagnoses because of previous trauma,” says Marvin Hill, Assistant Child-Care Supervisor in Residential. “We know their history, their issues, and we’re in this field to help, but it can be emotionally taxing.”
Team activities and “supervision”—one on one meetings between a staff member and his or her supervisor to talk about the day-to-day tasks of work and to connect on a personal level—help front-line care givers to maintain balance. “In the ‘olden days’ work and home life may have been separate, but here we need our lives to be balanced and integrated to make sure we are 100% here for the kids,” says Hill. “We insist employees use their vacation time,” adds Hill, who uses his time-off to de-stress by watching and playing sports and hanging out with his own kids, ages 6 and 14.
Building Fun and Connection into the Work Week
For JCFS’ Foster Care team, Western Day, Twin Day, and most recently the Olympics are just some of the themed dress-up team building days that the team regularly schedules. “Every member of our Foster Care team puts so much of themselves into the everyday of foster care,” says Megan Sutherland, Director of Foster Care. “Each is driven to care for our kids--some of whom have been in 12 or more homes before they get to us--through his or her relentless passion, hard work, care and perseverance." The fun, playful days help the team to connect more deeply and give them a moment to decompress.
And, rather than waiting for stress to build, why not incorporate regular exercise and relaxation into your schedule as a proactive approach to managing the demands of daily life? Mollie Reed, Educational Therapist, takes the weekly yoga class that she and colleagues set up on-site at the Virginia Frank Child Development Center several years ago. “I find yoga to be helpful in so many ways, to help me feel calm and centered prior to beginning my day,” says Reed. “I wear several hats and yoga helps me to not feel overwhelmed by all I have to do and I really enjoy this new way of being with my colleagues.”
Give Yourself Permission to Care for Yourself
“You have to give yourself permission to care for yourself,” says Linda Jamison, Clinician in the SOC/MAC program, who admitted that she used to feel guilty if she took time to relax. Jamison ultimately realized that time spent on herself made her more available and present in her work to serve others. “So I introduced the Self-Care Book to my colleagues,” says Jamison. The Self-Care Book is big binder, readily available in the SOC/MAC office area, which includes movie reviews, coupons for massage, book recommendations and more, submitted by members of the team to give ideas to all for self-care.
Writing Down Your Stress "Safety Plan"
“Once stress begins, we can get caught in the moment and forget what works for us,” says Peter Baker, Director of Residential Services. Baker asks each team member to make a Safety Plan, a written list of their top five ways to de-stress. Some people wear a bracelet as a reminder; he carries his on a card in his wallet, for easy reference. “For me it’s, take a walk, look at the big picture, exercise, think before I react, think about what I say,” says Baker.
For others it may be drinking water, singing at the top of your lungs, making lists or prioritizing tasks, but thinking in advance of those items that help you find balance, and referring to them when you feel stress beginning to build, can help.
So, what’s on your Safety Plan?