Childhood Trauma

Overview

It is estimated that 2 out of 3 youth will be exposed to childhood trauma before the age of 16. Traumatic childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, loss of a loved one, domestic violence, parental substance abuse, natural disasters and other life-altering events impact how a child views him or herself and responds to the world. Trauma impacts important regions of the brain responsible for problem-solving, emotion regulation and memory. Years of research show that some of the worst health and social problems arise from traumatic childhood experiences.

Childhood Trauma Has Lifelong Effects

Childhood Adversity - childhood traumaOne of the largest investigations into this connection was conducted from 1995 to 1997 at Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego. More than 17,000 individuals participated in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study which involved completing a standardized physical exam along with a confidential survey that contained questions about childhood abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction. Researchers were surprised to find that not only were ACES common, but a large portion of the group had experienced multiple ACEs. The ACE Study revealed that 67% of the participants had at least one adverse childhood experience, and 20% of participants had experienced three or more. Participants also detailed their current health status and behaviors and as the number of ACEs increased, the risk for health problems also increased in a strong and graded fashion.Types of ACES - childhood trauma

Exposure to abuse, neglect, family disruption and violence causes high levels of stress within a person’s body. When this stress overwhelms a person’s capacity to cope, it is called toxic stress or traumatic stress.

The more traumatic stress someone experiences, the more challenging it can be for the person to overcome future stress at home or at work. Again, this is due to the way adversity affects a person’s brain development. The inability to manage stress impacts a person’s health, well-being and ability to succeed in life. Toxic stress also affects communities as a whole because the resulting health problems like depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are costly and can adversely affect job performance.

A Trauma-Informed Approach by SAMHSA 

  • Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery
  • Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system
  • Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices
  • Resists re-traumatization

With a trauma-informed approach, a child’s treatment is focused on providing safe environments, practicing self-regulation and cognitive processing skills, and identifying resources to support the children as they transition back to their home community.

Every child responds to trauma differently. They may withdraw, become physically or verbally aggressive, have difficulty forming healthy relationships, struggle in school or make unhealthy choices. It’s important to train every adult involved in the child’s life so that they can help the child cope with their triggers and behaviors in a trauma-informed way.

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