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Promising Futures Guiding Principles: Applied to Staff Wellbeing

The Promising Futures Guiding Principles are: partnership, equity, storytelling, centered lived expertise, healing, accountability, and safety. These principles were developed to improve outcomes for children, youth, and parents impacted by family violence.

By: Rebecca Hoffmann Frances, Aurora Smaldone, and Jasmyn Brown

The Promising Futures Guiding Principles are: partnership, equity, storytelling, centered lived expertise, healing, accountability, and safety. These principles were developed to improve outcomes for children, youth, and parents impacted by family violence.  These guiding principles not only inform the work, they also act as pillars for supporting those who do the work. When viewed through the lens of staff wellbeing, they offer guideposts to improving the organizational environment and culture. 

 According to the US Centers for Disease Control, wellbeing is, “the presence of positive emotions and moods, the absence of negative emotions, satisfaction with life, fulfillment and positive functioning” (Wellbeing Concepts, 2018). Wellbeing encompasses a number of domains such as: career wellbeing, social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, and physical wellbeing (which includes mental health and community wellbeing) (Rath and Harter, 2010). The experience of wellbeing in the workplace includes finding joy, being able to bring one’s whole self to work, feeling a sense of purpose, being supported by leadership, and having opportunities to set goals and grow professionally. Fostering staff wellbeing requires an active investment of organizational leadership and resources. 

 Working in the field of family violence is challenging and can elicit distress in providers (Bragg, 2003). This distress can evoke the “parallel process,” which is defined as, “the idea that patterns or dynamics that arise in the lives and relationships of clients will play out within the teams and services working with those client groups” (Cousins, 2018; Searle, 1955). For this reason, it is imperative that providers utilize these guiding principles not only as guideposts for work with children, youth, and parents, but also in the work of ensuring professional wellbeing.

In addition, those that work in the field of family violence come with a myriad of past experiences and oppressions. Intersectionality theory describes the combination of gender, race, sexuality, immigration/documentation status, and other personal identities that can “intersect to multiply oppressions and vulnerabilities to injustice” (Szurgyi, 2017). What staff bring to the work, and what they experience at work, can collide in a way that greatly impacts their wellbeing. It is important to understand that this intersection can amplify the impact of the work. 

This resource was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. A global upheaval of this size can evoke serious stress and fear and represents an additional threat to staff wellbeing. Although the pandemic is a unique incident, there are many other types of disastrous events that cause similar levels of stress (for example: natural disasters, personal disasters, terrorism, or community violence). These types of events, layered upon existing stressors, challenge wellbeing immensely. For these reasons, it is important for workplaces to design and implement specific disaster relief response plans to support staff.  

Each guiding principle is discussed in turn below. Following each is a description of how the concept relates to staff wellbeing, as well as concrete and practical suggestions for applications of the principles in the workplace.

Staff Wellbeing 


Establish transformational partnerships that shift power to communities. Domestic violence cannot be effectively addressed by a single person, system, or community. Improving outcomes for children, youth, and families exposed to domestic violence requires a comprehensive approach by collaborative partners across communities. 

Staff wellbeing requires more than “self-care” by individuals, and cannot be wholly achieved by a single staff member, manager, or organization. Improving staff wellbeing requires a comprehensive and integrated approach by collaborative partners throughout a community. Social support, both personal and professional, is a protective factor and reduces the risk of secondary traumatic stress (Quitangon, 2019). Therefore, it is important to invest in inter- and intra-agency support networks to bolster staff resilience. This can be accomplished by creating a culture of support, and modeling the practice of caring for one another. In addition, a shared leadership model in which power is actively shifted from leadership to staff allows staff agency and authority in decision making. This authority reduces feelings of powerlessness and disconnection. In addition, consultation with peers reduces feelings of isolation and increases self-efficacy (Figley, 1995). It is important to normalize and celebrate the collective strength of a team over individualism. Culturally relevant mental health resources and non-clinical supports must also be readily accessible. 

To support staff through partnerships: 

  • Equalize power differences by promoting partnership between staff in diverse roles and with differing responsibilities. For example, provide opportunities for relationship building across all levels of the organization and collect input from all positions to inform organizational decisions. “Healing happens in relationships and in the meaningful sharing of power and decision-making” (SAMHSA, 2014). 

  • Partner with outside entities so that mental health resources and culturally resonant supports are available to all staff regardless if they have been directly impacted by trauma or not. For example, encourage staff to access services that promote health and wellness. Additionally, ensure that mental health coverage is part of an employee health insurance plan and be sure to promote accessibility for employees (NCADV, 2018). Embed wellness activities into the benefits offered to staff (such as fitness memberships or reimbursement for healthy activities) and consider offering these during working hours for staff to take part. Include a variety of activities such as massage, or yoga, which are known to reduce stress. 

  • Engage and collaborate with staff to understand and address the specific impacts of trauma-focused work on their wellbeing. Tailor solutions to the specific needs of individuals or impacted groups and provide direct support to those who are most affected (Deloitte Development LLC., 2020). For example, engage in a shared decision making structure.  Allow staff to be part of determining solutions by giving them voice and choice through all organizational processes; such as policy-making, culture-shaping, hiring, or determining appropriate approaches and practices for increasing wellness at work.  


Implement approaches that are responsive to the connection between family violence and other forms of oppression that impact people’s lives. Fostering equity in anti-violence work requires intentional and strategic approaches that utilize an anti-oppression framework. Individuals often proceed unconsciously to maintain the status quo without a critical understanding of the nature of privilege and each of our roles in maintaining it. 

To ensure healthy, resilient staff, organizations need to do more than adopt standard inclusion practices (Winters, 2020). Too often, people of color and people from historically marginalized groups report feeling undervalued, unsafe, and unwelcome in their work environment (Winters, 2020). Marginalization takes an enormous toll on staff wellbeing. Counteracting experiences of racism, bias, and discrimination in the workplace should be a top priority for employers. Creating a culture of equity requires more than a one-off training – it takes deep commitment and an ongoing, tailored process of learning.  For example, generations of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have had less access to education, fewer opportunities to build wealth, and have been over surveilled and criminalized. These dynamics have led to a significant underrepresentation of BIPOC staff in social services. Moreover, BIPOC staff in social service fields typically continue to experience policies and practices that contribute to racism and oppression. Counteracting these forces, therefore, is critical to workplace wellbeing. 

To promote the principle of equity:

  • Review human resource polices through a cultural equity lens (instead of equality). For example, typical bereavement leave policies grant a standard amount of time off based on familial lineage. This “one size fits all” approach doesn’t account for people who are raised by non-blood relatives, need additional time due to cultural or religious practices, or may need to travel (perhaps internationally) to observe services (Winters, 2020). 

  • Create time and space for conversations about the toll that bias, discrimination, and racism have on People of Color as well as the role of privilege and whiteness in a racialized society (Winters, 2020). One way to do this is to create an equity group comprised of staff from all organizational levels to analyze and reflect on internal and external inequities and to foster change in policies and practices. In addition, convene race-based affinity groups to create safe spaces for people to reflect, process, and hold one another accountable. 

  • Train leaders on specific skills to bridge and navigate cultural or other demographic differences. Allow leaders learning opportunities to increase their ability to navigate, and respond to, interpersonal and group issues that stem from inequitable group dynamics or exclusive practices (Winters, 2020).

  • Consider retaining external help to design and implement protocols that support justice, diversity, and a thriving workplace. Openly share this process with staff as well as resulting changes (Winters, 2020). Be sure to elicit staff input as this work progresses. 


Capture stories and spread their impact using a wide range of interpersonal, cultural, and research and evaluation approaches. Storytelling is one of the most fundamental forms of communication. From the first cave paintings created many thousands of years ago, to the oral traditions of Indigenous cultures, to the modern narratives and numbers found in quantitative and qualitative research and evaluation, storytelling has made meaning and shaped thinking. 

Storytelling serves as an essential resilience tool for staff and team wellbeing (Brown, 2018). Narratives reflect values, worldviews, and culture. Especially in work environments where there is high exposure to family violence or toxic stress, it is critical that providers have the time and space to tell their stories, reflect on their work, and be heard and supported by their peers as well as by skilled supervisors. Storytelling in safe and supportive spaces fosters inclusion of diverse staff perspectives which can promote genuine representation of non-dominant voices, cultivate equitable decision making, and improve staff engagement  (Arao, & Clemens, 2013; Collins, 1990). Storytelling and reflective practice are critical aspects of trauma-informed care and are shown to reduce compassion fatigue (SAMHSA,2014; Van Berkelear, 2018). 

To apply storytelling effectively: 

  • Create space(s) for storytelling as a valued approach to staff wellbeing, team communication, professional development, and support. Ensure emotional and physical safety in storytelling environments and bolster brave communication (Arao, & Clemens, 2013). For example, offer a pathway that is anonymous for staff to provide feedback to leadership. The experiences (stories) of staff are essential to improving workplace culture and they allow staff to be heard safely 

  • Provide regular and reliable supervision for staff which includes time for reflection on successes, challenges, and impacts of trauma-exposed work and work environments. Ensure that supervisors have the skills and training to be able to hold space and be supportive in their role. Many supervisors move into their role without this knowledge or skill. Therefore, it should be an essential part of supervisor orientation and should be subsequently addressed on a regular basis  

  • Utilize storytelling as a valued form of information collection to honor staff perspectives and inform policy revisions, evaluation efforts, staff engagement, and organizational improvement and change. The stories from clients and survivors are important and so are the stories from staff. They can foster learning, improve service quality, and enhance organizational culture and wellbeing. 

Centering Lived Expertise

Facilitate people’s ability to define their experiences and direct the trajectory of their lives. Adult and child survivors are experts in their own lives and should be allowed to name their experiences and champion their progress in their own way without the expectation of perfection. 

Understanding lived experience is about recognizing the diverse expertise each staff member brings to the table (Swanson, 2019). Personal experience should be valued, elevated, and integrated into the system of care by organizations and employers (Hart, 2021). By honoring the lived expertise of staff, variations in history, culture, language, and personal experience can be celebrated (Centering Voices Workgroup, 2018). In addition, staff resilience is bolstered when people are free to be who they are and have their experiences honored (Davis, 2014).  

To this end:

  • Recognize and celebrate the inherent resilience among staff. Employees who have experienced the very challenges that their organization addresses can introduce distinct, relevant knowledge that cannot be replicated through education and traditional training (Merritt, Farnworth, Kennedy, Abner, Wright II, & Merritt, 2020).

  • Support hiring practices, retention, and leadership development that value and financially compensate for lived expertise. When organizations employ staff with lived experience, managers observe increased levels of trust between clients and service providers, enhanced client-centered perspective among service providers, and higher quality in the services provided (Merritt, Farnworth, Kennedy, Abner, Wright II, & Merritt, 2020).  

  • Play an active role in educating and training staff at every level of the organization about the value of lived expertise and about how to relate to and communicate with colleagues with that expertise. This may include hearing and learning directly from staff with lived expertise, if they want to disclose and discuss their experiences, or by bringing in others to talk about their lived experience (Heartland Alliance, 2022). 


Create a wide array of pathways to healing for all people impacted by violence powered by individual, family, and community relationships. Healing is a process that happens in the context of relationships. Adult and child survivors are more than the trauma they experience. 

Healing from the impact of trauma is a unique process for every person, yet healing happens in the contexts of relationships and community connectedness. The same is true for staff who are recovering from their own experience of primary or secondary trauma. 

It is important for organizations to provide and support avenues for staff healing as follows: 

  • Healing from the impact of secondary trauma exposure is not a “one size fits all” approach. Promote a diverse array of effective, culturally informed, and holistic resources to be made available to staff.  

  • Emphasize staff relationships as a method to support healing and utilize shared decision making because empowerment is a tool that also supports healing. “Relational ethics incorporate a number of principles from relationship cultural theory: (a) human growth happens in connection and through interdependence with others; (b) disconnections from the self and others cause mental distress; (c) disconnections are caused by power-over dynamics; and (d) for healing to occur, power-over relationships must be transformed to relational power-with relationships based on interconnectedness (Mifsud & Herlihy 2022). 

  • Culturally responsive strategies may include: recognition of the spiritual, physical and mental impact of the work; recognition of the interplay between faith traditions and healing: and the provision of resources for staff to pursue non-traditional healing methods such as massage, reiki, prayer, music, storytelling, and ceremony. 

  • Peer support, group supervision, and team-based work increase interconnectedness. Working within a team context combats isolation, reduces individual burdens, and creates opportunities for social connection. Collaboration also helps to build close relationships at work, a key indicator of success in the workplace (Mann, 2018). 

  • Cultivate community in the workplace and prioritize staff engagement. Rather than emphasizing “self care,” embrace a healing-centered approach that fosters deep connections, recognizes culture, spirituality, civic action, and collective healing as relevant to bolstering resilience (Ginwright, 2018). 

  • Support and advance flexibility and work-life integration (Bereiter, 2017). Allow staff the flexibility and space to craft and implement personalized plans for healing and thriving. Research has shown that flexibility in work schedules, time off, remote work, and job roles directly correlates to organizational and staff resilience (Gittell, Cameron, Lim, & Rivas, 2006; Lengnick-Hall, Beck, & Lengnick-Hall, 2011). 


Establish practices that hold people who use violence responsible, repair harm caused by people and systems, and change the conditions that perpetuate violence. Accountability refers to using both the power of systems and the power of relationships to hold people who use violence responsible. 

A culture of accountability in the workplace builds trust within a team and this trust enhances staff morale and wellbeing. Against the backdrop of an environment of safety, staff can embrace their mistakes as learning opportunities. When staff feel a sense of responsibility in conjunction with reliability, they are more likely to seek repair. These opportunities for repair increase staff wellbeing. In addition, working in the field of family violence offers staff the opportunity to be activists and therefore, hold systems accountable for injustices perpetrated upon survivors of violence. Seeking justice and equity contributes positively to wellbeing. 

Ways to increase accountability:

  • Start with leaders. Leaders should model accountability and take ownership of failures, mistakes, and successes when appropriate. Leaders must be willing to own their mistakes and follow through with repair (Oster, 2021).

  • Staff who feel ownership of, and are held accountable for their work, are more likely to be effective and more attentive to the needs of those they serve (Fandt, 1991). There is a significant positive correlation between accountability and job satisfaction (Thoms, Dose & Scott, 2002). Promoting accountability at work is about empowering staff to do their job, not punitive reactions to, or as consequences for perceived underperformance.

  • Create opportunities for staff to hold themselves accountable for the ways in which they have participated in injustice. Initiate race-based affinity groups through which staff can explore historical racism and bias, and work to unlearn habits of white supremacy. The staff in these groups can find ways to hold themselves and others accountable for past and current harm to BIPOC colleagues and clients, promote a more equitable workplace, and reduce the burden on historically marginalized people and communities 

  • Utilize accountability as a tool for staff wellbeing. Staff are accountable for the care they provide to others, but the organization is accountable for the care it provides to employees. Developing organizational policies and procedures that support the livelihood and wellness of their employees makes the organization itself accountable for staff wellbeing. This sends a message to staff that is permissible and important to care for one’s own wellbeing and that the organization will prioritize this. For example, create policies and procedures that celebrate and encourage boundary setting in the work place. This concept extends accountability beyond the workplace and into the self of the worker (Fink-Samnick, 2008). 


Build programs and systems that prioritize adult and child survivors’ interests equally to address their physical, spiritual, emotional, social, and environmental safety. Safety for adult and child survivors should be addressed equally and interdependently, go beyond physical safety, and reflect the complexity of risk caused by the person using violence. 

In the field of family violence, establishing safety is a basic function of the profession.  Safety is one of the most basic human needs, and staff safety is vital to success in the workplace (Delizonna, 2017). When staff do not feel safe, it is more difficult to create safety for their clients and consumers (Kahn, 1979). 

Ways to explore, identify, and establish practices that increase safety:

  • Establish an environment of emotional safety within a workplace to increase staff engagement, creativity, and productivity. Emotional safety is achieved when there is a shared belief that interpersonal risktaking is safe (Edmondson, 1999). This type of environment can be created with an organizational commitment to positive experiences and relationships (Futures Without Violence, 2021). In addition, emotional safety is achieved by leadership transparency and clear communication.  If leaders communicate honestly to staff, and staff are invited and supported to share their thoughts and opinions, emotional safety begins to be established. This creates a culture of candor and trust, critical to workplace wellbeing (Lagace, 2018). In addition, when leaders show that they value staff input and they trust staff to do their jobs, staff will feel valued and have a sense of belonging. 

  • Connect with staff face-to-face as much as possible. In-person interactions allow staff to feel seen and honor each person’s need for respect and autonomy. In turn, feeling respected and trusted increases emotional safety (Delizonna, 2017). Direct interaction opens the door for leaders to learn about the challenges staff are facing in their lives. This support and feeling of “mattering” builds meaning (Costin & Vignoles, 2020) and resilience in staff. 

  • Build a culture of prioritizing safety. Modeling desired behaviors and investing in resources that increase safety are all ways to establish this culture (Boutetiere, Gregoire Rousseau, & Turnbull, 2019). This also shows staff that the organization values their safety, which in turn builds trust and creates a virtuous cycle of emotional safety. Attending to all domains of safety (physical, emotional, job, financial, etc.) increases staff wellbeing. Physical safety, in particular, is a cornerstone of feeling secure at work. Physical safety can be achieved by providing staff with forums to express concerns and finding solutions to fix these concerns.  Having a safety committee that is made up of representatives at all levels and in various programs will generate solutions that meet the needs of all.  In addition, having safety plans in place for a variety of situations and communicating these to staff will help provide staff with a feeling of being cared for.

  • Safety in the workplace is a continuum (Beuermann-King, 2021). It is relative to each person, and is not a binary “either-or” concept. This applies to multiple types of safety (physical, spiritual, emotional, social, and environmental). What feels safe to one employee may be just the thing that feels unsafe to another. For this reason, it is vital to create an environment of trust and mutuality in which employees can share how they are doing and managers attune to individual staff needs.