Understanding Child Victimization and Trauma

Far too often, children and youth are victims of violence through exposure in their homes, schools, and communities. In the past several years, researchers have begun to understand that exposure to violence is much more common than once believed, and child victimization and related trauma has lasting consequences on a child’s physical and mental health, as well as their family and social relationships. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found that, among a nationally representative sample of U.S. children and youth, more than 60 percent had been exposed to violence in the past year, and more than 10 percent reported 5 or more exposures. Generally, exposures among young children were less serious, and older adolescents were the most likely to experience more serious forms of violence such as assaults with injury, gang assaults, sexual victimizations, and physical and emotional abuse. Among older adolescents, 1 in 10 witnessed a shooting in the past year, and 1 in 20 was sexually assaulted. Multiple and cumulative victimizations were also frequently reported in the study. See the attached bulletin from OJJDP for more information about the study.

The prevalence of child victimization points to the importance of trauma screening among children and youth. If children and youth are not screened for trauma history, their trauma symptoms may be mistaken for other behavior problems. Usually, this means that the child and family will not receive the help they truly need. All too often, providers simply try to treat a child’s symptoms and work on “problem” behaviors without addressing the root cause: trauma. Screening for trauma exposure and symptoms is important for children, youth, and families. Talk with others in your community about how you can make a difference in a child’s life by recognizing trauma, which is the first step to getting a child the appropriate services. Contact ashley.brock-baca@state.co.us to request Trauma Informed Care training for your community.

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