This predictor looks at the effects of safety from trauma on social, emotional, and cognitive development. Exposure to trauma in childhood can alter brain development and undermine a child’s agency, capacity for interpersonal relationships, and sense of self. It can also diminish the cognitive abilities children need to succeed in school. Exposure to trauma and violence in adolescence has been linked to low academic performance and to long-term negative consequences later in life (Macmillan and Hagan 2004).
Evidence of the Relationship between Predictor and Related Outcomes
- Research provides compelling evidence that exposure to trauma in early childhood can have significant negative consequences that persist long after the trauma has ended. Early exposure to trauma has been shown to undermine brain development, social-emotional development, ability to develop secure attachments, emotion regulation, sense of agency, and self-efficacy (Romano et al. 2015). As a result, children who have experienced trauma (and especially multiple traumas) are at risk for developing emotional and behavioral problems such as depression, anxiety, dissociation, posttraumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, hopelessness, withdrawn behaviors, and impaired peer relationships (Staudt 2001). In a study of a community-based sample, adolescents who had experienced physical trauma “had levels of aggression, anxiety/depression, dissociation, delinquent behaviors, PTSD, social problems, thought problems, and social withdrawal that were on average twice as high as their non-maltreated counterparts” (Lansford et al. 2002).
- In addition to the long-term emotional and psychological effects of maltreatment, three decades of empirical research into the effects of exposure to trauma indicates that children and adolescents with exposure to trauma exhibit impaired cognitive development, language development, and overall academic achievement (Veltman and Browne 2001). Adolescents who had experienced physical trauma in the first five years of their lives were absent from school almost twice as many days and were suspended from school more than twice as many times as adolescents who had not experienced physical trauma (Lansford et al. 2002).
- One literature review found evidence that the link between exposure to trauma and educational outcomes/difficulties may be partially explained through the disruption of key developmental processes in children, such as attachment, emotion regulation, and sense of agency (Romano et al. 2015).
How Investments Can Influence the Predictor at State or Local Levels
Communities can provide training to children’s caregivers and teachers to help them understand the consequences of early exposure to trauma, identify it, and provide treatment (Staudt 2001). This training includes holding workshops for teachers on what behaviors are commonly associated with maltreated children and the services available to parents at risk of maltreating their children and children who have been the victims of abuse. Communities can also draw guidance from the vast literature on trauma-informed care approaches in schools (Romano et al. 2015).
The primary reference is marked with an asterisk.
Lansford, Jennifer E., Kenneth A. Dodge, Gregory S. Pettit, John E. Bates, Joseph Crozier, and Julie Kaplow. 2002. “A 12-Year Prospective Study of the Long-term Effects of Early Child Physical Maltreatment on Psychological, Behavioral, and Academic Problems in Adolescence.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 156 (8): 824–30.
Macmillan, Ross, and John Hagan. 2004. “Violence in the Transition to Adulthood: Adolescent Victimization, Education, and Social-Economic Attainment in Later Life.” Journal of Research on Adolescents 14 (2): 127–58.
Romano, Elisa, Lyzon Babchishin, Robyn Marquis, and Sabrina Frechette. 2015. "Childhood Maltreatment and Educational Outcomes.” Trauma, Violence, and Abuse 16 (4): 418–37.
* Staudt, M. Marlys. 2001. “Psychopathology, Peer Relations, and School Functioning of Maltreated Children: A Literature Review.” Children & Schools 23 (2): 85–100.
Veltman, Marijcke, and Kevin D. Browne. 2001. “Three Decades of Child Maltreatment Research: Implications for the School Years.” Trauma, Violence, and Abuse 2 (3): 215–39.
Related outcome: Positive socioemotional development
Mobility dimension engaged: Power and autonomy