What is Trauma?
Trauma is a psychologically distressing event that is outside the range of usual human experience, one that induces an abnormally intense and prolonged stress response. Because infants and young children's reactions may be different from older children's, and because they may not be able to verbalize their reactions to threatening or dangerous events, many people assume that young age protects children from the impact of traumatic experiences. A growing body of research has established that young children—even infants—may be affected by events that threaten their safety or the safety of their parents/caregivers.
Will All Children in Foster Care Experience Trauma?
The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (2011) interviewed a nationally representative sample of children and adolescents and found that approximately half had experienced two or more types of victimization in the past year. Although children who are court-involved are more likely to have experienced trauma and to exhibit increased traumatic stress symptoms, it is important to remember that children have different reactions to exposure to violence, and not all children who experience traumatic events will have lasting issues as a result.
How Does Trauma Affect the Child In My Care?
Young children who experience trauma are at particular risk because their rapidly developing brains are very vulnerable. Early childhood trauma has been associated with reduced size of the brain cortex which is responsible for many complex functions including memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thinking, language, and consciousness. These changes may affect IQ and the ability to regulate emotions. Children who have experienced trauma may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Attachment issues
- Attention/concentration issues
- Oppositional behaviors
How Does Being “Trauma Informed” Help Me as a Foster Parent?
Parenting a child who has experienced trauma requires a shift in the way you think about childhood development as well as the way you communicate with and provide support for the child in your care. Becoming trauma informed opens up a new way of thinking about and acting on the behaviors you experience in your home and can assist you in reducing power struggles and begin to make genuine strides toward improvement.
- Focus on Trauma Bulletin (www.ifapa.org/pdf_docs/FocusonTraumaBulletin.pdf)
- The Trauma Informed Care Project (www.traumainformedcareproject.org)
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network (www.nctsn.org)
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network Learning Center - for Child and Adolescent Trauma (www.nctsn.org/login/index.php)
- National Trauma Consortium (www.nationaltraumaconsortium.org)
- Kids Mental Health Info (www.kidsmentalhealthinfo.com/child-trauma.php)
- Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (www.acestudy.org)
- American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (www.aaets.org)
- Chadwick Center (www.ChadwickCenter.org)
- National Center for Children Exposed to Violence (www.nccev.org)
- Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress (www.chop.edu/professionals/pediatric-traumatic-stress)
- International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (www.istss.org)
- SAMHSA National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (www.samhsa.gov/nctic/)
- Parenting After Trauma: Understanding Your Child's Needs - A Guide for Foster and Adoptive Parents (www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/healthy-foster-care-america/Documents/FamilyHandout.pdf)
- Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Cope with Trauma - A Guide for Pediatricians (http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/healthy-foster-care-america/Documents/Guide.pdf)
- Through Our Eyes: Children, Violence, and Trauma Video (http://www.ovc.gov/pubs/ThroughOurEyes/index.html)
- How Can Trauma Affect My Young Child?
- Building Resiliency in Families