The word trauma is used to describe negative events that are emotionally painful and that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope. Interpersonal or intentional trauma, such as childhood abuse or neglect, tends to have the most severe adverse psychological effects on children. Trauma can also occur when there is sexual abuse or psychological abuse.
Children can suffer trauma at any age as they are maturing and developing. However, early childhood trauma generally refers to the traumatic experiences that occur from birth up to age six. Because infants’ and young children’s reactions may be different from older children’s, and since they may not be able to verbalize their reactions to threatening or dangerous events, many people assume that young age protects children from the impact of traumatic experiences. On the contrary, a growing body of research has established that young children, even infants, may be affected by events that threaten their safety or the safety of their parents and caregivers.
When children are exposed to multiple traumatic events in their lifetime, they are defined as having suffered complex trauma. Complex trauma can have devastating effects on a child’s physiology, emotional development and impulse control, self-image and self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, and the ability to think, learn, and concentrate. Studies have shown that complex trauma can lead to other issues, including substance abuse and addiction, chronic physical conditions, and mental illness.
If a child does not form healthy attachments with caregivers, he or she will be more likely to experience stress, which may cause the child to have trouble controlling and effectively expressing his or her emotions. The child may also be prone to violent or inappropriate reactions. Normal biological functions can be impaired, because when a child grows up afraid or under persistent or high levels of stress, the child’s immune and stress response systems may develop abnormally. Children who have experienced complex trauma often have difficulty with the expression and management of their emotions.
Dissociation—the mental separation from traumatic events—may also be seen in children. This can affect a child’s ability to be fully present in activities of daily life and can significantly fracture a child’s sense of time and continuity, which can have adverse affects on learning and classroom behavior, as well as his social interactions with peers. Trauma may cause a child to struggle with self-regulation—causing a lack in impulse control or the ability to adequately think through consequences before acting. Children who suffered trauma may have problems thinking clearly, reasoning, and solving problems—causing them to be unable to plan ahead, anticipate the future, and act accordingly. Childhood trauma can have long-term consequences on a person. A child cannot be blamed for the trauma they suffered or the harm that it has caused their development.
For more information, visit Childhood Trauma: Changing Minds™.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) with a Screening of the Documentary Film Resilience – Ann Pimentel-Kerr
Ann Pimentel-Kerr will be leading a screening and discussion of the film Resilience. The film delves into the science of the original study and encourages discussion about ACEs and Resilience by showing examples of communities that have piloted programs using trauma and ACEs informed therapy.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – Dr. Candice Jones
Dr. Candice Jones will discuss the science behind the study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how understanding the relationship between childhood traumas and physical and mental health can assist in treatment and healing.
Why Your Client’s Early Childhood Matters – Dr. Sarah Vinson, M.D.
A discussion of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their long-term adverse outcomes.
Childhood Trauma: The Neurobiology of Adaption by Joanne Terrell, MSW, LCSW, PIP
Joanne Terrell, MSW, discusses the effects of personal and environmental violence on children, the effects of trauma on brain development, and the three ways trauma causes emotional and behavioral problems in children.
Mitigating with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) – Judge Lynn Tepper, J.D.
Frustrated by juveniles entering the justice system repeatedly for various forms of violent offenses, indifferent to the consequences of their actions? Domestic violence, battery at school, battery on law enforcement, battery on school or detention staff? A violent youth on a spiraling path into the adult system or a child impacted by adversity in his home and neighborhood? This presentation will share the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that leads to toxic stress and alters brain structure. We have the opportunity to change the youth’s trajectory by seeking assessments and dispositions that heal past trauma and the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences.
LEGAL AND SCIENTIFIC ARTICLES
How Courts in Criminal Cases Respond to Childhood Trauma
Deborah W. Denno, How Courts in Criminal Cases Respond to Childhood Trauma, 103 Marquette L. Rev. 301 (2019).
Abstract: Neurobiological and epidemiological research suggests that abuse and
adverse events experienced as a child can increase an adult’s risk of brain dysfunction associated with disorders related to criminality and violence. Much of this research is predictive, based on psychological evaluations of children; few studies have focused on whether or how criminal proceedings against adult defendants consider indicators of childhood trauma. This Article analyzes a subset of criminal cases pulled from an 800-case database created as part of an original, large-scale, empirical research project known as the Neuroscience Study. The 266 relevant cases are assessed to determine the extent to which, and the methods whereby, criminal courts weigh and respond to childhood trauma evidence. This Article first creates a systematic and detailed definition of what constitutes childhood trauma evidence based on 20 factors, including physical and verbal abuse, dysfunctional upbringing, brain damage or injury, and neglect and abandonment. These factors are then examined in the context of the often life-long conditions caused by or related to such trauma, ranging from mental illness and neurological disorders to poor intellectual functioning and behavioral problems. A review of courts’ responses indicates that childhood trauma evidence is primarily used for mitigation and can play a significant and persuasive role in claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, especially in death penalty cases. At the same time, findings suggest that courts may offer attorneys a troubling degree of deference by accepting their claims of “strategic” yet empirically unfounded decisions to omit childhood trauma evidence in certain circumstances. This Article provides real-world guidance for attorneys seeking to incorporate childhood trauma evidence into their arguments, emphasizing the value of drawing a distinct nexus between defendants’ childhood traumas and their adult criminal behavior. Attorneys who understand the long-term effects of childhood trauma will be better equipped to make such connections and effectively present this evidence in court.
The Snowball Effect of Crime and Violence: Measuring the Triple-C Impact
Michael Gilad, Abraham Gutman, Stephen P. Chawaga, The Snowball Effect of Crime and Violence: Measuring the Triple C-Impact, 46 Fordham Urb. L.J. 1 (2019).
Abstract: This Article is one of the first to take an inclusive look at Comprehensive Childhood Crime Impact (Triple-C Impact) – the monumental problem of exposure to crime during childhood. This problem is estimated to be one of the most damaging and costly public health and public safety problems in our society today. This Article presents an original empirical analysis revealing the states’ failure to provide effective recourse to the millions of children nationwide who suffer from exposure to crime and violence. Additionally, it provides an in-depth, evidence-based investigation into the magnitude of the Triple-C Impact problem, and the full range of adverse outcomes suffered by affected children, as well as our society as a whole, that result from the states’ deficient practices. This Article establishes the importance of developing effective policies that will enable early identification of, and intervention for, children harmed by crime exposure, in order to facilitate recovery from trauma. It demonstrates how improving state practices will prevent cascading injurious consequences, improving the lives and well-being of millions of children into adulthood, while also providing an almost unparalleled opportunity for savings on fiscal and social costs.
Childhood Trauma’s Lurking Presence in the Juvenile Interrogation Room and the Need for a Trauma-Informed Voluntariness Test for Juvenile Confessions
Crane, Megan Glynn. Childhood Trauma’s Lurking Presence in the Juvenile Interrogation Room and the Need for a Trauma-Informed Voluntariness Test for Juvenile Confessions. South Dakota Law Review.
Abstract: Childhood trauma is increasingly recognized as an all-too-common part of the childhood experience in our country. (1) Recent scholarship has highlighted this tragic reality and begun the work of identifying the myriad ways that childhood trauma is relevant to youths’ interactions with our criminal justice systems. On a parallel track, burgeoning social science and neuroscientific research make clear that the impact of childhood trauma is profound, tangible, and can endure into adulthood. Momentum is thus building for a research-based, trauma-informed approach to juveniles caught in the web of our juvenile and criminal justice systems.
While much has been written on how and why childhood trauma increases the likelihood that a youth will end up involved with the criminal justice system–and some has been written on how traumatized youth should be treated once their case is adjudicated and they are sentenced–comparably little has been said about how prior trauma actually impacts a youth’s interactions with the players of the criminal justice system and the likely outcomes. This article will focus narrowly on one aspect of a youth’s early interactions with the criminal justice system during a critical phase that is often outcome-determinative: the police interrogation.
“Developmental Trauma Disorder: Toward a Rational Diagnosis for Children with Complex Trauma Histories” by Bessel A. van der Kolk
Abstract: Childhood trauma, including abuse and neglect, is probably the nation’s single most important public health challenge, a challenge that has the potential to be largely resolved by appropriate prevention and intervention. Each year over 3,000,000 children are reported to the authorities for abuse and/or neglect in the United States of which about one million are substantiated. Many thousands more undergo traumatic medical and surgical procedures and are victims of accidents and of community violence. However, most trauma begins at home: the vast majority of people (about 80 %) responsible for child maltreatment are children’s own parents. Read the full article.
“Trauma Changes Everything: Examining the Relationship Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Serious, Violent and Chronic Juvenile Offenders” by Bryanna Hahn Foxa, Nicholas Pereza, Elizabeth Cassa, Michael T. Bagliviob, and Nathan Epps, Child Abuse & Neglect (2015)
Abstract: Among juvenile offenders, those who commit the greatest number and the most violent offenses are referred to as serious, violent, and chronic (SVC) offenders. However, current practices typically identify SVC offenders only after they have committed their prolific and costly offenses. While several studies have examined risk factors of SVCs, no screening tool has been developed to identify children at risk of SVC offending. This study aims to examine how effective the adverse childhood experiences index, a childhood trauma-based screening tool developed in the medical field, is at identifying children at higher risk of SVC offending. Data on the history of childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, criminal behavior, and other criminological risk factors for offending among 22,575 delinquent youth referred to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice are analyzed, with results suggesting that each additional adverse experience a child experiences increases the risk of becoming a serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offender by 35, when controlling for other risk factors for criminal behavior. These findings suggest that the ACE score could be used by practitioners as a first-line screening tool to identify children at risk of SVC offending before significant downstream wreckage occurs. Purchase access to the full article.
“How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime” by Nadine Burke Harris, TEDMED (2014)
Abstract: In this TED Talk, pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect, and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on. Watch the full TED Talk or read the transcript.