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July 2016Vol. 17, No. 5Is Your Organization Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed?

By Ginny Sprang, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, University of Kentucky (UK), Executive Director, UK Center on Trauma and Children

This article is part of a series of guest articles on the topic of secondary traumatic stress (STS). Each article in the series focuses on STS at a different level of child welfare—the worker/peer level, manager/supervisor level, and organizational level.

Transforming a child welfare organization into a trauma-responsive agency requires attention to how indirect trauma impacts workers and explication of the role and responsibility of the agency to protect its workforce. In addition to measuring the impact of child welfare activities on the safety, well-being, and permanency of children and their families, it is important to have evaluation systems that help organizations self-monitor and be sensitive to the impact of trauma on the workforce. The Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed-Organizational Assessment (STSI-OA) was designed for this purpose and is an example of a rapid assessment tool that can facilitate this developmental process and support trauma-informed care transformation in public child welfare. 

The STSI-OA is a 40-item organizational assessment tool that categorizes STS prevention and intervention activities into six domains of activity:

  • An organization's promotion of resilience-building activities (7 items)
  • The degree to which an organization promotes physical and psychological safety (7 items)
  • The degree to which the organization has STS-relevant policies (6 items)
  • The degree to which an organization exhibits STS-informed leadership practices (9 items) and routine organizational practices (7 items)
  • How well the organization evaluates and monitors STS and STS policies and practices in the workplace (4 items)

Each query is followed by choices that indicate the degree to which the organization is addressing the item, including "Not at All," Rarely," "Somewhat," "Mostly," and "Completely or "Not Applicable." Total scores range from 0–160, with higher scores indicating a higher level of competency in each of the domains assessed. Scoring the STSI-OA involves summing all items, across all domains (N/A = 0). The respondent pool was diverse in terms of geographic location and size of the organizations, service system represented, as well as the tenure, role, and function of the respondent. The national mean total score is 125.82 (SD = 57.5). 

The STSI-OA has excellent internal consistency at .97 for the total score, indicating that calculating a total score by summing the items in each domain is reliable. Domain scores are also in the excellent range from .88 (Promoting Safety) to .94 (Resiliency Building Activities and STS informed Leadership Practices). The STSI-OA has a significant, moderate, and positive relationship with a 30-item version of the Trauma System Readiness Tool, indicating convergent validity. Test-retest reliability at 90 days is good at .81.

The STSI-OA was designed to operationalize an organization's role in addressing STS by outlining a series of policy, practice, and training activities that would enable a unit to address STS in the workplace based on its unique characteristics and needs. In this way, the tool describes what an STS-informed organization would look like, if all the activities were enacted fully, based on the current literature relevant to STS risk and protection and principles of organizational learning and development (Dodgson, 1993; Crossan, Lane, & White, 1999). Currently, the STSI-OA is being used nationally and internationally as part of structured implementation of trauma-informed care or STS response initiatives (i.e., learning collaboratives) and as one component of an organizational change process aimed at protecting the workforce. Field reports document the effectiveness of the STSI-OA in facilitating goal setting, formalizing and institutionalizing the monitoring of STS prevention and intervention efforts, and increasing administrative awareness of the role and responsibility of the organization in addressing indirect trauma in the workplace.

The STSI-OA is available for download at and a free scoring program is available at