Childhood Trauma Explained

Childhood trauma occurs when a child experiences an intense event that threatens or causes harm to his or her emotional and physical well-being. Trauma can be the result of a single event, or it can result from exposure to multiple events over time. All children in foster care have been exposed to some form of trauma. Removal and placement in out-of-home care is traumatic for children, because it means the loss of their biological family and often friends, teachers, and everything that is familiar. The effects of trauma are more severe when the traumatic event happens again and again, it happens to a younger child, the child has fewer social supports, and if the child has fewer coping skills.

Some children are more sensitive than others are; therefore, what is traumatic for one child may not be seen as traumatic for another. Trauma can affect children’s brains, bodies, behavior, and ways of thinking. Ongoing trauma often disrupts their sense of security, safety, and alters the way they see and respond to people and situations in their lives. Children who have experienced trauma may develop unhealthy habits and behaviors, including increased aggression and distrusting or disobeying adults. These behaviors may have helped protect the child from neglect or abuse in the past. It usually takes time, patience, and often therapeutic support to address and overcome them.

Children are very resilient and do the best they can with what they have. It is the job of child welfare professionals and caregivers to understand children’s experiences and how those experiences affect the way they see and respond to their world.

The training video, The Trauma Cycle: How You Can Help Children and Families provides additional insight on how trauma effects children.

Childhood Trauma Resources:

The Center’s Trauma Informed Resources

Child Welfare Information Gateway Trauma Informed Resources

Understanding Child Trauma

Trauma Informed Care Exposed to Violence: Tips for Child Welfare Staff

A Child’s Perspective of a Traumatic Experience (YouTube Video)

Credit for this article goes to the Center for Child Welfare at USF