Child Trauma and Young Children
Childhood trauma has been characterized as an urgent public health problem and the largest single preventable cause of long-term mental illness in children. Child traumatic stress occurs when children are exposed to traumatic events or situations that overwhelm their ability to cope, including situations where the child’s relationship with his/her primary caregiver is weakened due to the traumatic event. Repeat exposure to trauma can affect a child’s brain development and increase the risk of low academic performance, engagement in high-risk behaviors, and difficulties in family and peer relationships. Childhood trauma can stem from child abuse and neglect; a tragic separation between a child and his/her primary caregiver due to violence or incarceration; witnessing violence between adults who care for children; neighborhood violence; and other events that cause extraordinary stress for a child. Young children are disproportionately the victims of violence and neglect and are frequent witnesses to violence between the adults who care for them.
Child-Parent Psychotherapy is a highly effective treatment method that reduces the negative impact of various forms of trauma on young children by restoring the child-parent relationship, and the child’s mental health and developmental progression that have been damaged by the traumatic experience. Child-Parent Psychotherapy is an evidenced-based model for children that is developmentally and culturally informed to meet the needs of all families. It also addresses unresolved traumatic events the primary caregiver may have experienced that interfere with his or her ability to parent effectively. Research demonstrates that Child-Parent Psychotherapy is one of the best ways to address child trauma, strengthen the child-parent relationship, and improve child outcomes including increased IQ scores and school readiness. This intervention has been shown in randomized clinical trials to improve the mental health of both primary caregivers and their children, and to decrease levels of depression and anxiety in women. The Child Trauma Research Project (CTRP) developed and implements this model specifically designed for traumatized parents and their children in the first five years of life. Child-Parent Psychotherapy is currently being disseminated nationally through CTRP, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and the Safe Start Initiative.