Research In Action

Research In Action

stress less
Helping Those Who Help Others
October 29, 2019

Laura Vega, DSW, LCSW, and I recently presented at the Juvenile Justice Services Conference sponsored by Juvenile Detention and Alternative Programs (JDCAP), an organization charged with promoting sound policies, advancing best practice standards, and maintaining a continuous learning environment within the juvenile justice system. Despite all efforts to divert youth from juvenile detention and long-term placements, the reality is that over 14,000 youth entered detention center doors in Pennsylvania during 2018, according to the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges Commission 2018 Annual Report.

The focus of this year’s conference was on “helping those who help others,” and I knew immediately that the work of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia fit the bill. Dr. Vega and I were grateful to discuss the rewards and challenges of working with juvenile-justice-involved youth across the state of Pennsylvania, and we used the Stress-Less Initiative as a framework to discuss how to best support staff working with youth impacted by trauma.

Dr. Vega created the Stress-Less Initiative in 2015 after experiencing her own difficult secondary traumatic stress (STS) symptoms which can mimic those of posttraumatic stress disorder and include re-experiencing (flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts), avoidance, hyper-arousal, and changes in mood. The Stress-Less Initiative is a trauma-informed organizational group model to prevent and reduce STS. Burnout and STS can be unfortunate byproducts of working with youth in the juvenile justice system, and it’s crucial to address STS early to have the best outcomes for staff and to provide quality services to youth. 

Destigmatizing Burnout and Stress

Our goal was to bring these issues to the surface, as there can be a lot of stigma around them for those in direct services. Although many compassionate people choose to do this important work, they are not invincible and often need help in coping with the strain and stress from caregiving. Through our presentation we shared how to:

  • normalize these reactions
  • identify resources for coping and resiliency
  • advocate within organizations for more pro-active organizational approaches to address these issues

Unfortunately, there is no way around the issue of trauma in juvenile justice: 80% of youth have had exposure to at least one potentially traumatic event and are 5 to 8 times more likely to develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than others their age.[ref 1] We also know that increased trauma exposure and chronic stress can increase the likelihood of chronic and infectious disease, poorer educational outcomes, and risky behaviors like drug abuse.[ref 2]

We can, however, create a safe space for those who work with youth affected by trauma to address how their work impacts them personally and professionally while receiving encouragement and support from colleagues by carrying out the Stress-Less Initiative at our organizations.

Learn More & Access the Program

VIP at CHOP has manualized the Stress-Less Initiative to make it available as a resource to your team. Here’s how to access the program:

  • If you are a CHOP employee, please visit Wellness@CHOP to access more information.
  • If you are external to CHOP, please download this fact sheet to learn more about bringing the Stress-Less Initiative to your team.


  1. Ford JD, Chapman JF, Hawke J, Albert D. (2007). Trauma Among Youth in the Juvenile Justice System: Critical Issues and New Directions. Washington, DC: National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Research.
  2. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. (2019, April). About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC.