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Monday, 17 June 2013

A little bit about trauma and adversity and Australian kids.....

Someone asked me a question today. They wanted to know why talking about childhood trauma and adversity was so important. This person knew that bad things happened to children and they also knew that these things could be really damaging to kids. But they didn't know much more than that. 

About two thirds of children, by the time they reach 18, will have been exposed to a traumatic event or adversity. Now, it is not necessarily true that these traumatic experiences or adversities will lead to negative outcomes for all children. 35 - 65% of children are likely to be resilient to these potentially traumatic events 2 years after they occur.  We know that most children are resilient in the face of adversity. But we can say that most children will encounter potentially traumatic events at some time in their childhood or adolescence. 

What are these potentially traumatic events?
There are a long list of stressful events or adversities that may occur in a child's life. There are the traumatic events such as child abuse and neglect and exposure to domestic violence that we know causes great distress and disruption to the lives of children. Then there are the adversities or difficulties that may be present in the lives of many children. And these are events such as a disaster (such as floods or fires); a death in the family; legal problems in the family; a serious injury or assault in the family; family financial hardship; the child experiencing an injury or an accident; substance abuse problems in the household where the child lives; single parent households; arguementative or hostile relationships between parents; hostile parenting; children residing in foster care or other out of home care; parental mental health difficulties; the child having a chronic health or developmental difficulty; parents separated or divorced; and being bullied. There are also the adversities that are associated with different communities, such at the experience of being a refugeee or asylum seeker; living in a rural or remote area; and being Indigenous

An important Australian study, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), has been tracking the lives of around 9000  children over the past 8 years and has been able to provide us with some valuable insight into just how many of our children are experiencing these potentially traumatic events in their lives. Just over 47% of children included in the LSAC have been bullied at school; over 24% have a chronic health or developmental condition; over 20% have parents who have separated or divorced; and over 12% have been exposed to parental violence. Now, we know that children who are exposed to 3 or more adversities are likely to have poorer outcomes in terms of mental health and wellbeing, and it seems that there are around 20% of children who fall into this group. 

What are the negative outcomes of childhood trauma and adversity? 
There has been a great deal of research into the impact of childhood trauma and adversity over the past 10 years. As a result of many, many studies we now know that early trauma and adversity leads to poor mental health AND physical health outcomes in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Childhood trauma and adversity has been reported to contribute to 44.6% of childhood onset mental health disorders and 32.4% of adult psychiatric disorders. This includes depression and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders and psychotic disorders. 

There has also been a great deal of research that can demonstrate that exposure to adverisity and trauma in childhood can increase the likelihood of a range of poor physical health outcomes as an adult and this includes increasing vulnerability to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. 

Talk more about trauma and adversity
The impact of poor mental and physical health is a huge burden on individuals and families as well as the community. This is why it is essential that we talk more about the trauma and adversity that children face. Learning more about the impact of trauma and adversity on children and helping parents, carers and the community to recognise when kids are going through tough times, and how they can help, are the first steps towards protecting our kids, looking after their wellbeing and helping them to have a better future! 

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