Those who strive to protect the Internet’s youngest victims face incredible challenges – and can bear tremendous emotional tolls. Knowing this, many ICACs create support and wellness programs to give their staff the resources they need.
But how do you create a wellness program when there are some who see needing wellness programs as a sign of weakness?
- the organizational, administrative and financial challenges that may occur and practical suggestions on meeting those challenges,
- the development of the program, including the three-pronged approach of education, individual support, and emergency/immediate availability, and
- making the program relevant to the staff and developing their participation in the program.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): For those who might be not as familiar, what does the Maryland State Police ICAC Task Force do?
Matthew Kail: The Maryland State Police is the lead ICAC for the State of Maryland. The Maryland ICAC has been serving the citizens of Maryland for approximately twenty years and is one of 61 one ICAC Task Forces across the country. The Maryland ICAC is comprised of State, Federal, and Local law enforcement from across the state. Several State’s Attorney’s Offices are also members of the MDICAC.
The primary role of the MDICAC is to investigate crimes involving the exploitation of children via the Internet. Our goal is to protect children from the dangers associated with the Internet though education, awareness, and parental involvement.
Studies have shown that providing self-care programs that focus on stress management and resiliency skills
reduce the number of sick hours used and improve law enforcement personnel job satisfaction.
JCH: Law enforcement is a challenging profession under any circumstance… without giving away the whole presentation, share with us some of the additional or more unique challenges ICAC teams face.
Duane Bowers: Of course, viewing images of children being sexually abused is unique to this team. It’s also work that is difficult to understand what the perpetrator is thinking, or what motivates them. I also believe that it can be exceptionally rewarding when an arrest is made that the team knows will positively affect a child and end their abuse.
JCH: Regardless of assignment, some law enforcement or justice professionals have been reluctant to seek support or help. Is this trend changing?
Duane: From my perspective, I believe it is. What I see is that the more the administration values wellness and self-care, the more willing employees are to ask for support. If they believe it might directly or indirectly affect their employment status or ability to grow professionally, employees will not use support services. While there may be some concern for how co-workers may view the use of support, for the most part, law enforcement personnel and administrators are more and more seeing its value.
I wish I would have known going into developing this support,
how willing the ICAC investigators and lab personnel were going to be to utilize it.
JCH: What are the key reasons why leaders should be looking out for their team’s emotional well-being?
Duane: Studies have shown that providing self-care programs that focus on stress management and resiliency skills reduce the number of sick hours used and improve law enforcement personnel job satisfaction. With increased job satisfaction, turn-over rates decrease, and the cost of training replacements decrease. Another study shows that law enforcement job efficiency increases as well. Then there is always the argument that ‘it’s the right thing to do’.
JCH: Each of you have watched out for the well being of law enforcement – but from different perspectives. What do each of you wish you would have known or realized earlier in your career about the well-being of ICAC or law enforcement teams?
Duane: I wish I would have known going into developing this support, how willing the ICAC investigators and lab personnel were going to be to utilize it. MD-ICAC is fortunate in that it has a commander who sets a very positive tone around the need for support. Quite honestly, I was working very hard at the beginning to try and convince participants how helpful wellness sessions could be – I found out I didn’t have to. Most were eager to participate.