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Selecting officers for trauma teams.

Critical incidents such as altercations with violent inmates, injuries to fellow officers and inmate suicides occur all too often in corrections. Like many agencies, the Correctional Service Canada has found that using teams to conduct critical incident stress debriefings (CISDs) can reduce the stressful effects these traumatic events can have on staff.

The CSC also has found that these teams work best when line staff play a major role on them. As peers, line staff can more easily establish a supportive rapport with other officers. Typically, our CISD teams have four members--a clinical director, a mental health support worker and two line staff.

Proper selection of team members is vital to ensuring the team's credibility and effectiveness. What follows is a look at the selection process used last fall at Bowden Institution, a medium security penitentiary in Alberta.

Before selection began, the facility's CISD Organizing Committee agreed on several characteristics of successful candidates:

1. They must be comfortable with their own emotional reactions to critical incidents.

2. They must demonstrate, 6y their own example, that they cope effectively with stress.

3. They must show an altruistic desire to provide counseling and support to their colleagues.

4. They must not have chronic mental health or substance abuse problems.

5. They must be highly educated regarding the kinds of problems officers are likely to experience and be competent to deal with them.

6. They must be able to work under clinical direction and as part of a disciplined professional group.

Twenty-eight officers asked to be considered for the team. The committee started by asking applicants to rank themselves and each other on six variables that are considered critical personality characteristics for team members:

* ability to establish and maintain rapport with colleagues;

* degree of respect from colleagues;

* ability to actively listen to others;

* ability to keep confidences;

* ability to adhere to policy and guidelines; and

* lack of debilitating personal problems.

In addition, applicants' immediate supervisors were asked to rank the applicants. Only those with more than three years of service with the CSC were accepted for evaluation.

Next, applicants were asked to measure their personal level of commitment to the CISD program. This was necessary because teams may be called into action on short notice and because team members may be away from home and family for several days at a time. Also, team members may be required to volunteer extra hours at meetings or training events.

A list of 10 officers was generated from these rankings, and these officers were invited to participate in CISD peer member training, which is currently ongoing.

This selection process has several benefits:

1. It eliminates accusations of management favoritism and interference in peer team selection.

2. It highlights personal unsuitability for such work and identifies candidates who have personal issues that disqualify them for CISD work. The Organizing Committee probably would not be aware of problems such as an inability to keep confidences or alcohol problems.

3. It gives the team credibility because staff know they are the best of the available candidates.

4. By asking both line staff and supervisors to provide ratings, the most objective assessments possible are obtained.

The selection committee has found that Bowden's selection process is highly effective. In addition to reducing the amount of leave taken due to staff post-traumatic stress disorder, overall morale has improved because line officers feel management recognizes the stress they experience in the line of duty and are prepared to respond in such a positive manner.
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Author:Holden, Roger; Miller, Laurie
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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