Few early education programs are prepared to help children recover from traumatic experiences, such as abuse and neglect, that can have long-term effects, according to a recent report.
The National Center for Children in Poverty, a national public policy organization that advocates for children in poverty and low-income families, released the report titled, “Helping Young Children Who Have Experienced Trauma: Policies and Strategies for Early Care and Education.” It describes the impact of trauma on infants, toddlers and preschoolers and recommends services to help them.
The report states that young children experience trauma not only through abuse and neglect, but by witnessing violence, having a long separation from a parent or the loss of a parent, and enduring high levels of stress associated with living in poverty. Without intervention, these experiences can be long-lasting and impact health and behavior in adulthood.
Almost 50 percent of children across the country, about 35 million, have experienced trauma, and young children are at higher risk compared to older children, the report states. Children who experience domestic violence in their homes are “disproportionately young,” with 60 percent under age 6 and a quarter of all confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect involving children under 3 years old.
“The high prevalence of trauma and the potential magnitude of its effects underscore a critical mandate for ECE (early childhood education) programs and associated systems: to identify and implement promising strategies for supporting the healthy development of children who are victims of trauma,” the report states.
Early childhood trauma is distinct because infants and toddlers cannot verbalize the intensity of their feelings or describe alarming situations, the report states. This means a sense of hopelessness can easily go unaddressed in younger children. Also, children will often react with a range of behaviors that adults don’t always associate with trauma, such as excessive crying, fighting or withdrawal.
It’s critical that adults caring for young children who have experienced trauma “learn how to recognize trauma reactions and respond appropriately,” the report states. The report recommends training early education workers in trauma-informed care, which refers to an approach that provides the skills and techniques to manage young children who show signs of trauma.
The report recommends developing “policies that severely limit or prohibit the suspension and expulsion of young children and require appropriate interventions for children who have experienced trauma and may have emotional or behavioral difficulties.”
The report also highlights the importance of providing children who have experienced trauma with high-quality and stable early education programs and support services.
The presence and stability of a safe and nurturing environment “can help children to recover from past trauma and develop the skills to cope and thrive,” the report states. It goes on to say, “Environments that promote safety and trust, both at home and in the early childhood education program, help young children heal from traumatic experiences by restoring a sense of control and predictability.
The report also recommends expanding initiatives that help early education programs connect with families and community services, specifically for assistance with screening services that can address the needs earlier of children who have experienced trauma.