Trauma Informed Care

Trauma-informed is the term given to a new body of research that suggests that the negative effects of early childhood trauma (abuse, neglect, accidents, witnessing violence, and even certain medical conditions and procedures) disrupts the brain’s normal development to the point that the ability to learn and to form healthy relationships is severely compromised.

By conservative estimates, about 40 percent of American children will have at least one potentially traumatizing experience by age 18: this includes the death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence or other violent crime, serious accident or natural disaster. Children growing up in chaos, neglect, and threat lack the developmental experiences and socialization to self-regulate, relate, communicate and think. Consequently, these children are at great risk for emotional, behavioral, social, cognitive and physical health problems.

A 2005 study by the Casey Foundation concluded that former foster youth suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at two times the rate of U.S. war veterans. Untreated PTSD leads to self-destructive behaviors, e.g., dropping out of school, homelessness, drug or alcohol use, gang membership, teen pregnancy, or involvement with the juvenile justice system. When this happens, we all suffer the loss of productivity, creativity, and other contributions to society that could be made by these individuals if their life paths had been positively altered.

Within the past decade, a body of research from the field of developmental neuropsychology has contributed much to our understanding of the effects of trauma on the developing brain. A tremendous amount of brain development occurs in the first four years of life (in fact, by age 4, a child’s brain is 90% adult size). Trauma significantly disrupts this development, causing disorganization and dysregulation in the core brain systems and impacting the stress response systems. Many traumatized children will experience conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), depression, anxiety and other personality disorders. Families struggle with the exhausting demands and challenges of the symptoms of these diagnoses. But the damage done to these young systems does not have to be permanent. By applying developmentally appropriate therapeutic interventions, a young person’s brain can actually heal itself.

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