Child Trauma

What is child traumatic stress?

A potentially traumatic event is when a child feels intensely threatened by an event he or she is involved in or witnesses.  Trauma is defined by the individual’s experience of the event (e.g. intense fear for self or other, helplessness), not by the event itself.  One out of every four children will experience a traumatic event before the age of sixteen; whether these develop into traumatic stress depends on the child and the supports following the potentially traumatic event.  Fortunately, there are effective interventions and treatment for child traumatic stress.


Understanding Child Traumatic Stress (NCTSN 2005 PDF)

Age-Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event (NCTSN PDF)

Resources for Parents and Caregivers (NCTSN)


What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma is defined as chronic or multiple exposure to developmentally adverse victimization, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic and community violence, and impaired care-giving due to substance abuse or mental illness.  Numerous articles about complex trauma can be found on the NCTSN and Trauma Center websites.


Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

“ACEs” comes from a groundbreaking study that showed the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and later onset of chronic diseases, mental illness and substance abuse, and poor health and quality of life outcomes for adults.  The ACE Study was a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente's Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego, which surveyed adults about their experiences in childhood.


Adverse Family Experiences (AFEs): The Vermont Story

Adverse Family Experiences are potentially trauma experiences for children that can have lasting consequences into adulthood.  To learn about the impact of AFEs on Vermont children and youth, Vermont Care Partners and the Vermont Department of Mental Health collaborated on this series of informational slide shows.

Adverse Family Experiences:


For national data on AFES:  National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH)


Secondary (or Vicarious) Trauma

Professionals who work with people who have experienced trauma can themselves experience negative effects and develop trauma symptoms that impact their work, relationships, decision-making, and daily functioning.


What does it mean to be Trauma-informed?

Trauma-informed services are designed to deliver mental health (and other social services such as addictions, housing supports, vocational or employment counseling services) in a manner that recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role that violence and victimization play in the lives of most consumers of mental health and other social services.  This understanding drives the design of service systems to accommodate the vulnerabilities of trauma survivors, promote resiliency and recovery, and reduce and eliminate practices that have the potential to be traumatizing or re-traumatizing.  Trauma informed services are provided in a way that will facilitate child, youth, and family participation that is appropriate and helpful to the special needs of trauma survivors.


Trauma-informed mental health treatment incorporates... (Jennings, 2004):

  • An appreciation for the high prevalence of traumatic experiences in persons who receive mental health services;
  • A thorough understanding of the profound neurological, biological, psychological and social effects of trauma and violence on the individual; and
  • Care that addresses these effects, is collaborative, supportive and skill-based.

Child Trauma Services in Vermont

The Department of Mental Health adheres to the Agency of Human Services (AHS) Trauma Policy and has developed a draft DMH Trauma Policy to ensure that the mental health treatment system is trauma-informed and offers quality trauma-specific treatment.

The Department of Mental Health is a member of the AHS Child Trauma Workgroup, which was formed in 2004 as a subcommittee of the AHS Trauma Cluster. These groups were formed in response to the recognition that many people obtaining AHS services have multiple or complex experiences of trauma in their history and that this has significant implications on how to provide services that are supportive and effective. For a brief description of the Child and Family Trauma Workgroup (CFTWG), please visit the CFTWG Summary page.

The DMH Child, Adolescent and Family Unit, through collaborative planning with the Child Trauma Workgroup, was awarded a three-year grant (FY 2010-20012) for $400,000 per year to become a Community Treatment and Services Center of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) to improve trauma informed care across the community mental health system as well as the larger system of care. This award supported the implementation of the promising practice “Attachment, Self Regulation & Competency (ARC): A Framework for Intervention with Complexly Traumatized Youth” into the Vermont Children’s Mental Health system of care. For more information, please visit the Vermont Child Trauma Collaborative page.


Trauma-Informed Systems 




“Behind Closed Doors” Laura Cain, J.D., Managing Attorney of the Adult Mental Health Unit at the Maryland Disability Law Center.  To request a free copy of the film, please contact the law center by email: or by phone 410-727-6352, ext. 0.