Trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions in which the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed, and the individual experiences (either objectively or subjectively) a threat to her/her life, bodily integrity, or that of a caregiver or family. (Saakvitne, K, et al, 2000)
There are two types of trauma diagnoses:
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — associated with a traumatic event
Complex trauma or complex PTSD — associated with exposure to multiple or prolonged events, such as child maltreatment, neglect, abuse, etc.
Types of traumatic experiences are varied yet distinct, including sexual abuse or assault, physical abuse or assault, emotional/psychological maltreatment, neglect, serious accident or medical illness, witness to domestic violence, victim/witness to community violence, school violence, natural or manmade disasters, forced displacement, war/terrorism, victim/witness to extreme personal/interpersonal violence, traumatic grief/separation, and system-induced trauma.
Many Early Head Start and Head Start children have experienced at least one trauma.
The stress response refers to how stress influences the body and the brain, the impact of stress hormones (adrenalin, cortisol, etc.) and from basic body signals of “fight or flight” to feelings, thinking, and actions.
Overwhelming or traumatic stress involves such a strong response that the individual is “frozen”, unable to manage their feelings and physical response.
Chronic or uncontrollable stress “down regulates” the neurobiological chemicals associated with the stress response, making the stress response to even the slightest stress more likely an lead to significant long term effects or difficulties.
For young children, early exposure to trauma and overwhelming stress can impact the developing brain, particularly in the areas of emotions and learning.
The impact of trauma for young children requires a developmental perspective: the characteristics of the trauma, the child’s genetic and developmental capacity to manage stress, the quality of the child’s early attachment and caregiving system, and the aspects of child’s current functioning and development that have been affected.
The relationships that infants and young children have with caregiving adults are crucial to learning to managing stress, regulating emotions, and positive developmental outcomes.
Trauma signs and symptoms in infants and young children include emotional, functional, and developmental forms.
Early childhood mental health consultants can recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma and collaborate with Early Head Start and Head Start staff to help address the impact of trauma on young children by:
Providing information and hope to Early Head Start and Head Start staff and families,
Conducting sensitive inquiry and observation that is trauma focused
Determining the safety of the child, family, and their environment
Reporting suspected child abuse and neglect, yet maintaining a relationships with the child and family
Providing tools and support in collaboration with providers, caregivers, and families
Linking families to resources
Finding qualified therapists and accessible, effective therapy
Advocating for and building trauma informed services
Pursuing further learning and continuing education related to trauma, its impact, and intervention.
This product was developed [in part] under grant number 1H79SM082070-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.