Section 4: Trauma in the Child Welfare System

A significant number of children who enter the child welfare system have experienced trauma that can have profound and lasting negative effects throughout their lives. In fact, there is mounting evidence that chronic, adverse conditions in a child’s background can lead to ongoing issues with social, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral well-being. These might include maladaptive behaviors, cognitive difficulties, problematic relationships, and mental health issues. In addition, children who enter the child welfare system after experiencing trauma are vulnerable, without proper interventions, to being further traumatized by the very system that was designed to protect and heal them.

It is possible for child welfare agencies to have a significant positive impact on the challenges presented by trauma-affected children through appropriate assessments, interventions, and services. Implementing these, however, requires an understanding of how trauma can affect children across various well-being domains. It also requires an understanding of the various tools available for assessing trauma as well as of the many strategies and interventions available to help trauma-affected children and families. Research throughout the past decade has shown that there is no age at which appropriate interventions with a child will not have at least some degree of success in lessening the effects of trauma.

This e-training module, which is divided into four main sections, provides basic information on how to deal with trauma in the child welfare system. The first section, Trauma Overview, provides background information about child maltreatment and how it can negatively affect children. It also describes complex trauma and its effect on a child’s well-being.

Section Two, Trauma-Based Screenings and Assessments, discusses the important role of screenings and assessments for trauma within the child welfare system, provides general information about trauma-informed screenings and assessments, and provides some specific examples of some screening/assessment tools.

Section Three, Trauma-Informed Systems, presents ideas for agencies to consider in creating a more trauma-informed environment. It discusses the critical importance of evidence-based, trauma-focused practice interventions by professionals and concludes with a discussion of strategies that agencies can put into place to become more trauma-informed.

Finally, Section Four, Additional Resources, includes a link to the documentary video Children and Families Having a Choice and a Voice, which provides basic trauma information and lessons learned from a 5-year demonstration grant program to test whether children with severe emotional disturbances who meet the requirements to receive services from a psychiatric residential treatment facility could be successfully served in a cost-effective manner with their families in the community. The section also provides a comprehensive list of Web-accessible books, articles, and other source material related to trauma in the child welfare system.