Screening for Traumatic Exposure

We’ve previously shared various materials related to trauma, its impact on neurological and behavioral functioning, and strategies to support clients with significant trauma exposure. This month, we shift our focus to childhood trauma. Related to this topic, we are sharing some screening tools for assessing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) among the children you serve. In upcoming weeks, we will share additional tips for supporting these children.

Why Address ACEs?

Many studies document that children with multiple adverse childhood experiences are more likely to develop behavioral challenges, perform poorly in school,  struggle with mental health issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, and develop chronic health conditions later in life, such as cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, diabetes, and cancer. Fortunately, research also suggests that the brain can be “rewired” by new experiences in a way that can mitigate various health risks – a process called neuroplasticity. Early interventions are critical in supporting the healthy development of children.

To understand the needs of the children you serve, it is helpful to learn about their experiences and circumstances.  Various screening tools can be used to document trauma exposure. Many of these tools include ACE scores that reflect the cumulative number of adverse events that an individual has experienced. The higher the ACE score, the more likely it is for this individual to develop negative health outcomes later in life. Here is a screening tool that can be filled out by the child’s caregiver.

It’s critical that caregiver needs are met as well. Research shows that untreated caregiver depression predicts greater adverse health outcomes among children. The BRFSS Adverse Childhood Experience Module was developed for adults over the age of 18. This tool can be used to better understand the experiences of caregivers and to advocate for appropriate health and mental health care in the shelter and the community.

You may also consider screening for a broader set traumatic experiences among children. If so, please see the following screeners: