Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The aftermath of child traumatic stress

Child traumatic stress occurs when children and adolescents are exposed to traumatic events or situations, and this exposure overwhelms their ability to cope with what they have experienced.

Traumatic events can include physical and/or sexual abuse, assault, serious accidents or illnesses and the loss of important relationships or caregivers.


The issue of trauma has only recently received attention within the juvenile justice department, and children’s services in general. For this reason, very few agencies routinely screen for trauma or offer trauma-specific treatment interventions for youth in their care.

Severe and/or long-term trauma has a chemical effect on the body which changes the body’s normal stress response into an alarm response.

As a result, young people might internalize their feelings through depression and anxiety, or act out their feelings in the form of aggression, conduct problems and oppositional/defiant behavior.

Young people are faced with the task of dealing with past trauma, recognizing its current impact and learning ways to manage or overcome the emotional and behavioral problems caused by PTSD.

Effective strategies are those that:
- Educate survivors about biochemical reactions associated with PTSD
- Empower survivors with strategies to self-regulate their response to triggers
- Encourage survivors by giving them a safe place to share their story in an atmosphere of acceptance

Source: Ford, J., et al, Trauma among youth in the juvenile justice system. National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, Research and Program Brief, June 2007.

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