Unaddressed trauma is a serious public health problem. The long-lasting detrimental impact of trauma on physical and mental health, especially among children, is necessitating the adoption of a trauma-informed approach to care. Wisconsin is leading the effort to become the United States’ first trauma-informed state. On March 13, 2018, Wisconsin Governor Scott K. Walker signed a proclamation declaring May 2018 as Trauma-Informed Care Awareness Month and May 22, 2018 as Trauma-Informed Care Day in the state.
Wisconsin First Lady Tonette M.T. Walker is taking several initiatives to address the impact of traumatic events on children and their families in the state. Working in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, nonprofit organizations and private foundations, the First Lady is promoting trauma-informed care (TIC) to bring long-lasting and positive change. She hopes that these initiatives will “pave the way for other states to follow suit.”
The efforts have already shown tangible results. The Menominee Nation, a native Wisconsin tribe, was trained to adopt a TIC approach to offer social and behavioral health services to its members. These interventions have been instrumental in building critical life skills among students, improving their emotional health, and preventing them from dropping out of school/college. A TIC model also helps students to share their emotions with teachers and feel more at ease seeking help.
Trauma-informed care in the context of adverse childhood experiences
Children’s early-life experiences have a significant bearing on their future health and emotional well-being. These experiences also determine the likelihood of children becoming victims or perpetrators of violence. Early exposure to stressful or traumatic events, known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), is associated with lifetime social and behavioral problems. ACEs include physical or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, death or incarceration of a parent, and substance abuse among family members.
Recent research showed that in 2016, nearly 34 million children/adolescents aged 0-17 (46.3 percent of the age group) had at least one ACE, while 21.7 percent had two or more ACEs. Exposure to extreme and repetitive traumatic events leads to the development of toxic stress. Prolonged stress can have a detrimental impact on the development of brain architecture and increase the risk for cognitive impairments and stress-related psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In a trauma-informed child and family service system, all participants recognize and respond to the impact of traumatic stress on those who interact with the system, including children, parents/caregivers and service providers. Agencies and programs working within a trauma-informed system incorporate trauma awareness, knowledge and services into their organizational cultures, policies and practices. They use a collaborative approach and evidence-based practices to maximize physical and emotional security, facilitate the recovery of children and families, and support their ability to prosper.
Traumatic stress and PTSD in teens
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), while some teens may not exhibit any problematic outcomes of a traumatic event, others may experience intense post-traumatic stress responses, including overpowering dread, helplessness and nightmares/flashbacks. Youngsters may avoid people, places and activities which remind them of the trauma. They can be easily alarmed, have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, or experience angry outbursts.
PTSD-affected teens often exhibit anti-social behavior, avoid school, or embrace reckless habits like uncontrolled sexual activity, self-harm, bingeing and purging. Many youngsters attempt suicide. A common coping mechanism is alcohol or drug abuse. The National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) previously found that an estimated 5 percent American adolescents aged 13-18 had a lifetime prevalence of PTSD. Other studies showed that among traumatized children/teens, 3-15 percent girls and 1-6 percent boys developed PTSD, but rates were higher for certain types of trauma survivors.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment intervention for children with PTSD. Other treatment options include psychological first aid (PFA), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and play therapy. As a leading therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens aged 12-17, White River Academy offers evidence-based mental health treatment to teens, including PTSD treatment for teens. Call our 24/7 helpline number or chat online with one of our experts to know about the best teens PTSD treatment.