Scope of the Problem

Young children are exposed to traumatic stressors at rates similar to those of older children. In one study of children aged 2-5, more than half (52.5 percent) had experienced a severe stressor in their lifetime (Egger & Angold, 2004).

The most common traumatic stressors for young children include: accidents, physical trauma, abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic and community violence.

Child Accidents and Physical Trauma
  • Children aged 0–5 are hospitalized or die from drowning, burns, falls, choking, and poisoning more frequently than do children in any other age group (Grossman, 2000).
  • One in three children aged 0–6 have injuries severe enough to warrant medical attention (Beach & McCormick, 1997).

Child Abuse and Neglect
Young children have the highest rate of abuse and neglect, and are more likely to die because of their injuries.

  • Victims 0–3
    constituted 32.6 percent of all maltreatment victims reported to authorities in 2007 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010).
  • Infants are the fastest growing category of children entering foster care in the United States (Dicker, Gordon, & Knitzer, 2001). Infants removed from their homes and placed in foster care are more likely than are older children to experience further maltreatment and to be in out-of-home care longer (Wulczyn, Hislop, & Jones, 2002).

Child Exposure to Domestic or Community Violence

  • In a survey of parents in three SAMHSA-funded community mental health partnerships, 23 percent of parents reported that their children had seen or heard a family member bring threatened with physical harm (Crusto et al., 2009).
  • Nearly two-thirds of young children attending a Head Start program had either witnessed or been victimized by community violence, according to parent reports (Shahinfar, Fox, & Leavitt, 2000).
  • In a survey of parents of children aged 0–6 in an outpatient pediatric setting, one in ten children had witnessed a knifing or shooting; half the reported violence occurred in the home (Taylor, Zuckerman, Harik, & Groves, 1992).

Data from National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) Sites

In 2002 the NCTSN Complex Trauma Task Force conducted a clinician survey on trauma exposure for children who were receiving assessment and/or intervention services. Among the findings, published in a white paper— Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents (2003) (PDF)—was that 78 percent of children had experienced more than one trauma type and that the initial exposure on average occurred at age 5. Additional data from more than 10,000 cases of children receiving trauma-focused services from sites in the NCTSN reveal that in this cohort, one-fifth of children are aged 0-6. The traumas these children most often received services for were exposure to domestic violence, sexual abuse, neglect, and traumatic loss/bereavement (NCTSN, 2009).