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January 2012

Children and youth who experience trauma display increases in stress hormones comparable to those displayed in combat veterans. Researchers point to multiple potential outcomes for children exposed to trauma, including attachment, mood regulation, dissociation, self-concept challenges, and behavioral, cognition, and biological changes, 1,2,3 all of which can have a negative impact on school attendance, learning, and academic achievement.

With help from families, friends, providers, and other Heroes of Hope, children and youth can be resilient when dealing with trauma. Visit www.samhsa.gov/children to learn more.

Research from multiple studies indicates children and youth exposed to trauma and violence exhibit levels of stress hormones similar to those seen in combat veterans. Child traumatic stress can lead to multiple potential outcomes, negatively affecting children’s academic outcomes.

RAND and UCLA Health Services Research Center conducted a study among 35,000 sixth graders in Los Angeles Unified School District examining rates of violence exposure (hit, kicked, beaten, or threatened with a gun or knife) and the association of that exposure with school attendance and rates of suspension and expulsion. Results from that study and similar studies show that children exposed to violence and traumatic events can display decreased academic achievement, including:

  • Decreased IQ and reading ability4
  • Lower grade point average5
  • Higher school absenteeism6
  • Increased expulsions and suspensions7
  • Decreased rates of high school graduation8

Studies also show a link between violence exposure in children and PTSD with many adverse outcomes:

Link between Violence Exposure and Chronic PTSD with

  • Substance abuse
  • Reckless behavior
  • High-risk sexual behavior
  • Gang participation
  • Disturbances in academic functioning9

Research has shown that caregivers can buffer the impact of trauma and promote better outcomes for children, even under stressful times, when the following Strengthening Families Protective Factors are present:

  • Parental resilience
  • Social connections
  • Knowledge of parenting and child development
  • Concrete support in times of need
  • Social and emotional competence of children10

Use these sample messages to share this childhood trauma and resilience data point with your connections on Twitter and Facebook and via email.

Twitter: Children & youth who experience #trauma have increased stress akin to combat #veterans http://1.usa.gov/AbbNsM via @samhsagov #HeroesofHope

Facebook: Potential outcomes for children exposed to trauma include attachment, dissociation, behavioral and self-concept challenges. Learn more about the behavioral health impact of traumatic events on children and youth, and pass it on to observe National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day: http://1.usa.gov/AbbNsM

References:

  1. Cook, A., Blaustein, M., Spinazzola, J., & van der Kolk, B. (Eds.) (2003). Complex trauma in children and adolescents. National Child Traumatic Stress Network. http://www.NCTSNet.org Exit Disclaimer
  2. Cook, A., Spinazzola, J., Ford, J., Lanktree, C., Blaustein, M., Cloitre, M., & ... van der Kolk, B. (2005). Complex trauma in children and adolescents. Focal Point, 21(1), 4-8.
  3. Cook, A., Spinazzola, J., Ford, J., Lanktree, C., Blaustein, M., Cloitre, M., & ... van der Kolk, B. (2005). Complex trauma in children and adolescents. Psychiatric Annals, 35(5), 390-398.
  4. Delaney-Black, V., Covington, C., Ondersma, S.J., Nordstrom-Klee, B., Templin, T., Ager, J. Janisse, J., & Sokol, R.J. (2002). Violence exposure, trauma, and IQ and/or reading deficits among urban children. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.156(3), 280–285.
  5. Hurt, H., Brodsky, N.L., & Giannetta, J. (2001). Exposure to violence: Psychological and academic correlates in child witnesses. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 155(12), 1351–1356.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Wong, M., et al. (in press, under review). Youth violence across multiple dimensions: A study of violence, absenteeism and suspensions among middle school children – examining the temporal relationship between different types of violence exposure and school absenteeism and suspension. Journal of Pediatrics.
  8. Grogger, F. (1998) Market Wages and Youth Crime. Journal of Labor Economics, 16(4), 756–791.
  9. Kilpatrick, D.G., Ruggiero, K.J., Acierno, R., Saunders, B.E., Resnick, H.S., & Best, C.L. (2003). Violence and risk of PTSD, major depression, substance abuse/dependence, and comorbidity: Results from the National Survey of Adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71(4), 692–700.
  10. Horton, C. (2003). Protective factors literature review: Early care and education programs and the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Retrieved from http://www.cssp.org/reform/strengthening-families/resources/body/LiteratureReview.pdf Exit Disclaimer (PDF - 492 kb)

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs to talk, please call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

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