Adverse experiences in childhood and adolescence can significantly increase stress hormones and negatively impact emotional, social and physical health across time. When such experiences have these effects, they are called traumatic events.
The most common causes are: parental abandonment, divorce, substance abuse, mental illness, incarceration or long-term separation, sexual, physical and emotional abuse, neglect, witnessing or experiencing violence, a serious accident, natural disaster or acts of war. With multiple experiences, the risk increasesfor: anxiety, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide attempts, major diseases, dissociation, sexual concerns and other symptoms and behaviors that manifest in homes, shelters and work places, schools, correctional and health care facilities— anywhere and everywhere youth with such histories are found.
Ten years after the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study linked such experiences to multiple risk factors for leading causes of adult mortality, a U.S. government report (Barth et al.) found that very young children exposed to multiple adverse experiences have a high liklihood of experiencing one or more developmental delays. Another report that same year estimated that 772,000 children in the United States were maltreated. New research continues to link childhood trauma to higher rates of mental health problems and obesity in children.
Why Trauma-Informed Care Matters
System-wide efforts to become ”trauma-informed” aim to improve health outcomes early and reduce the otherwise long-term costs of unaddressed traumatic experiences to individuals and society.
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has identified Trauma and Justice and Military Families as strategic initiatives designed respectively to reduce the behavioral health impacts of violence through integrating trauma-informed services in prevention and treatment programs and to improve military families’ “access to high-quality, trauma-informed care by providers familiar with the culture of the military.”
SAMHSA-funded Systems of Care address the Mental Health Needs of Young Children and Their Families. Maine’s system of care began in 2005 to become trauma-informed through cross-system collaboration, training, education, accountability and meaningful family and youth involvement. Today Maine’s mental health providers that have received THRIVE’s trainings practice the trauma-informed service paradigm that begins with the question “What has happened to you?” rather than “What is wrong with you?” This approach recognizes problematic behaviors as stress responses related to past trauma or as a means of coping with or adapting to painful current circumstances.