Intermediaries and secondary trauma: developments in Australia

The potential for criminal justice professionals to experience secondary trauma is increasingly recognised: the risk increases for those whose caseloads consist largely of child abuse cases. In Australia, pilot intermediary programmes are underway in New South Wales and Victoria. In Victoria, the pilot involves a group of self-employed and a few employed (‘internal’) intermediaries. The Department of Justice and Regulation considers a well-being strategy for all of them as a ‘common-sense occupational health and safety issue’ in relation to vicarious trauma.  Intermediaries are encouraged to find ‘a good professional supervisor’ but in addition, the Department recognises the potential for:

‘exposure to graphic material and explicit information, as well as managing a highly traumatised witness, to be extremely traumatic. It may be a single incident that triggers vicarious trauma or the cumulative impact of the work’.

The Department’s strategy is multi-pronged, with immediate debriefing offered by the pilot programme manager and by a small group of internal (i.e. employed) intermediaries; regular group debriefing sessions with an external facilitator; access to the Department’s employment assistance programme; and a quarterly survey of intermediaries asking about stress and how they are managing the role.

In New South Wales, self-employed intermediaries have access to psychologists and support staff from the Department of Justice Victims Services. They can also participate in monthly clinical debriefing sessions run by a psychologist. Group sessions are described as covering de-briefing on specific matters/ cases; ‘compassion fatigue’; awareness building; self-regulation/ self-care; work and system barriers; safety; support networks; professional learning opportunities; and feedback. One-to-one clinical debriefing is also available by phone or face to face. The Annual Training and Development Conference for witness intermediaries provides a forum for group discussion about welfare, vicarious trauma and case conferencing.

Joyce Plotnikoff