Ways exist to help children better cope with trauma

March 13, 2023

Even one child being exposed to serious avoidable adversities is one too many. This is particularly true given that there are effective approaches that can reduce children’s exposure to these adversities. Yet when traumatic events have occurred, there are still many ways to help children. The Children’s Health Policy Centre makes four recommendations to help children better cope with trauma:

  1. Intervene before mental health symptoms develop. Even after children have experienced a serious adversity such as maltreatment, it is possible to prevent mental health symptoms from developing — and adding further to their distress and burdens. The program Fostering Healthy Futures prevented emotional problems and reduced the need for future mental health interventions for children in foster care. Multisystemic Therapy reduced mental health concerns for children involved with protective services but still living with their parents. And the program It’s My Turn Now helped children who had been exposed to intimate partner violence. Helping parents develop new skills to support their children was a component of these latter two programs.
  2. Consider other effective interventions for preventing behaviour problems and substance use. Among the four interventions included in our systematic review, none showed evidence of success in preventing common difficulties associated with childhood trauma, such as problematic behaviour or substance use. But both these challenges can be prevented by using other proven psychosocial interventions, including parent training programs to prevent behaviour problems and Preventure to prevent problematic substance use.
  3. Implement prevention programs before maltreatment occurs. The ideal approach is to
    prevent exposure to avoidable serious adverse experiences such as child maltreatment. Prevention also recognizes children’s rights — to safety and to having their basic needs met. Yet Canadian data from 2008 identified more than 236,000 child maltreatment investigations, with approximately 36% of these cases being substantiated. Practitioners can play an important role in prevention by delivering effective parenting programs, including programs that can reduce child injuries.
  4. Enact policies to reduce socio-economic disparities. The link between a major
    form of trauma — child maltreatment — and socio-economic disadvantage is well
    So successful prevention also likely involves addressing this larger
    societal issue. Other countries have made progress. For example, Denmark, Finland,
    Iceland and Norway have successfully reduced socio-economic disparities through
    long-standing social programs that redistribute income. Canada can follow suit by enacting similar programs, as the federal government and some provinces and territories have done in recent years. For more information, see Vol. 15, No. 1 of the Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly.