Trauma Exposure in Elementary School Children

Description of Screening Procedures, Level of Exposure, and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms

Published in: School Mental Health, v. 8, no. 1, Mar. 2016, p. 77-88

Posted on RAND.org on February 29, 2016

by Araceli Gonzalez, Nicholas Monzon, Diana Solis, Lisa H. Jaycox, Audra K. Langley

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Traumatic childhood events can have a significant impact on overall child functioning. Early identification and intervention could offer significant benefits for children's mental health and educational trajectories, but how to effectively identify young children is a challenge. In this paper, we describe screening for exposure to traumatic events and associated symptoms of posttraumatic stress, and examine differences by child gender and grade level. A total of 402 elementary school children in grades 1–5 participated across four elementary schools. We describe modified administration procedures of screening instruments for these young children. Children who endorsed exposure to one or more traumatic events were individually assessed for posttraumatic stress symptom severity. Thirty-four percent (N = 138) of children screened experienced one or more traumatic events, and 75.4 % of those exposed to at least one traumatic event endorsed moderate levels or higher of posttraumatic stress symptoms. Internal consistency of the symptom self-report instrument was adequate for children of all grade levels. Posttraumatic stress symptom severity increased for children exposed to more types of events. No gender/grade differences were found in symptom severity. Findings suggest that young children are impacted by traumatic events in relatively high numbers, that they can reliably report their posttraumatic stress symptoms, and that a large portion of those exposed to trauma experience significant distress. These results highlight the importance of early screening and identification of these children to curtail potential risk for future academic, social, and psychological maladjustment.

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