Identifying and Providing Services to Young Children Who Have Been Exposed to Trauma: For Professionals
Due to the particular developmental risks associated with young children's traumatic experiences, it is essential that vulnerable children be identified as early as possible after the trauma. Many community resources—including health systems, Early Intervention programs, child welfare agencies, Head Start, child care programs, and early education systems—play an important role in identifying children, and in linking them and their families with services.
Some of these systems now try to address possible traumatic experiences by including questions about specific traumas into their intake and/or assessment protocols. For example, both Head Start and Early Intervention intake protocols include questions about domestic violence in families. Other protocols may include targeted questions about accidents, loss of family members, and/or significant medical history.
The series NCTSN series "Young Children and Trauma: Service System Collaborations," features presentations by Network members on providing consultation to service systems. Access the free online series in the NCTSN Learning Center for Child and Adolescent Trauma.
For Mental Health Professionals
Behavioral Health Assessment
Assessment of trauma in young children must focus on the presenting problem in the context of the child's overall development. This information can be gathered though interviews with the parents/significant caregivers in the child's life, observation of the parent/caregiver-child interaction, and standardized assessment tools. Clinical assessment should include review of the specifics of the traumatic experience(s) including:
- Reactions of the child and parents/caregivers
- Changes in the child's behavior
- Resources in the environment to stabilize the child and family
- Quality of the child's primary attachment relationships
- Ability of parents/caregivers to facilitate the child's healthy socioemotional, psychological, and cognitive development
Instruments for Assessing Traumatic Stress In Young Children
Below is a list of some of the standardized instruments used within the NCTSN to assess traumatic stress in young children.
Instruments for Assessing Parenting Stress and Strengths
When conducting an assessment of a young child, it is also important to assess developmental delays (e.g., gross/fine motor, speech/language, sensory processing), which may indicate that the child could benefit from evaluation and/or services from another professional (e.g., occupational therapist, speech/language therapist, physical therapist). It is often helpful to consult and/or to work collaboratively with these professionals.
For Medical Professionals
Screening/Assessment in Health Settings
Most young children are seen at regular intervals by providers in the pediatric health care system, enabling repeated opportunities for identifying early childhood trauma.
Medical providers can also play an important role in diminishing risks and in maximizing protective factors associated with young children's exposure to trauma. They can supply information to prevent accidents and can incorporate questions about stressful and traumatic experiences into their interviews with families.
Resources for Identifying Traumatic Stressors in Young Children
- Child Trauma Academy
- Groves, B. M., & Augustyn, M. (2009), Pediatric Care Settings (PDF), Moving From Evidence to Action: The Safe Start Series on Children Exposed to Violence, Issue Brief #2, U.S. Department of Justice.
- Health Care Toolbox
- Injury—A Risk at Any Stage of Life (2006) (PDF)
- Cohen, J. A., Kelleher, K. J., & Mannarino, A. P. (2008). Identifying, treating, and referring traumatized children: The role of pediatric providers. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 162(5), 447-452.
- Dehon, C., & Scheeringa, M. S. (2006). Screening for preschool posttraumatic stress disorder with the Child Behavior Checklist. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 31(4), 431-435.
For Early Educators and Childcare Providers
Educators and childcare providers may inquire about children's safety; offer resources to reestablish safety for families; and, most importantly, support young children's learning through nurturing relationships, and through predictable expectations and routines in the classroom.
Resources for Educators
Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning
- Head Start Bulletin #73: Child Mental Health (2002) (PDF)
- Head Start Bulletin #80: Mental Health (2009) (PDF)
- Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators/Caja de Herramientas Para Educadores Para el Manejo de Trauma Infantil (2008)
- Scholastic Series for Teachers
- Scholastic Early Childhood Today—"Meeting Learning Challenges: Working With the Child Who Has PTSD"
- Scholastic—Early Childhood Today—"Death and Loss: Helping Children Manage Their Grief"
- Rice, K. F., & Groves, B. M. (2005). Hope and healing: A caregiver's guide to helping young children affected by trauma. Washington, D.C.: Zero to Three Press.
For Family Court Judges and Staff
The more that family court judges know about child development and the effects of child trauma, the better equipped they are to make decisions regarding permanency planning for abused and neglected children, to improve the lives of children who have witnessed domestic violence, and to adjudicate custody and visitation cases.
Safe Start Center
Zero to Three
- Helping Babies from the Bench: Using the Science of Early Childhood Development in Court (DVD): To access an order form to request this DVD, click here.
For Faith-Based, Community, and Mentoring Organizations
Community and faith-based organizations have in-depth knowledge of the resources and challenges in their communities. They play a vital role in linking families to resources that help stabilize and support them in the aftermath of trauma events. Advocating for families and increasing access to care can help families begin their recovery process.
Resources for Community Organizations
- Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide, 2nd Edition
- Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide for Community Religious Professionals