Today, a new and independent expert body, the UK Trauma Council (UKTC), launches with an appeal for an energetic and sustained response to childhood trauma. Its launch is timely, in light of increasing evidence of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown on child mental health.
The UKTC brings together 22 leading experts in research, policy and practice from all four nations of the UK, making it a unique multi-disciplinary group which will drive positive change in the care and support provided to children and young people who have been exposed to different forms of traumatic event – including single incidents, as well as abuse and neglect. It will empower professionals and local communities in supporting children and young people. It is hosted and supported by the Anna Freud Centre.
In ‘Beyond the pandemic: Strategic priorities for responding to childhood trauma’, published today, the UKTC identifies three ways in which the pandemic is impacting on the experience of childhood trauma:
- It increases the risk that more children will be exposed to trauma, including through sudden bereavement[i] or exposure to domestic violence;[ii]
- It increases the likelihood that those with prior experiences of trauma (for example, because of abuse) will experience significant difficulties; and
- It compromises the ability of adults and professional systems to identify a struggling child and mitigate the impact of trauma, including mental health problems.
The UKTC explains that the consequences for those affected may be profound and lifelong, unless there are clear UK-wide responses which seek to support children and young people.
Professor Eamon McCrory, Co-Director of the UKTC, says:
“Across the UK, there exists enormous expertise about what support children need following experiences of trauma, but we do not always make best use of it. The UK Trauma Council will harness this expertise and help others learn from it. Perhaps never before has there been such a pressing need for collaboration across communities, professionals and services at national and local levels, in the interests of children and young people.”
David Trickey, Co-Director of the UKTC, adds:
“None of us has escaped the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, but some have been more affected than others. For many children and young people, particularly those who have lived through previous trauma, the pandemic represents a series of potentially traumatic events. We should be in no doubt that this could have far-reaching consequences for their lives unless appropriate evidence based help is available. We are seeing an increased need for services, and there is a need for a new energy in supporting children if we are to successfully mitigate against the impact of the pandemic.”
The UKTC makes four recommendations in response to the pandemic, which it addresses to government departments, professional bodies, and those developing policy and practice. These are to:
- Prioritise responding to trauma in national and local strategies;
- Invest in specialist trauma provision for children and young people;
- Equip all professionals who work with children and young people with the skills and capacity to support children who have experienced trauma;
4. Shift models of help towards prevention, through research, clinical innovation and training.
Each recommendation is followed by suggested steps to be taken to achieve it, often focusing on the need for increased collaboration and the harnessing of existing expertise. With examples of specialist expertise and ground-breaking work emerging across the four nations, the UKTC will provide a platform for this to be more fully utilised than at present.
Aside from the current pandemic, research suggests that one in three young people is exposed to traumatic events by age 18 in England and Wales,[iii] and approximately one-third of all mental health problems are associated with exposure to childhood trauma and adversity.[iv] Experiencing or witnessing traumatic events in childhood can have particularly devastating consequences. They are associated with adaptations in brain structure and function, and impact a child or young person’s cognitive, emotional and social development.[v] [vi] [vii] [viii] Childhood trauma is associated with increased risk of later mental health problems, difficulties in personal and social relationships, as well as increased risk of new stressful experiences, including repeated abuse.[ix] [x] [xi]
Prof Ann John, UK Trauma Council member in Wales, says:
“We have become much more aware of the impact of traumatic experiences on the development and mental health of children and young people. There is no doubt it is vital we learn how to prevent and mitigate against trauma where we can and support those affected by it using child centred approaches that are inclusive and foster engagement. But as part of that we need to use information and data to give us the insight to act- the translation of data on childhood trauma and mental health, like the work from our MRC Pathfinder project, to the work of UK Trauma Council is how change will happen.”
[i] Burrell & Selman (2020) How do Funeral Practices Impact Bereaved Relatives’ Mental Health, Grief and Bereavement? https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0030222820941296
[ii] NSPCC (2020) Calls about domestic abuse highest on record following lockdown increase https://www.nspcc.org.uk/about-us/news-opinion/2020/Calls-about-domestic-abuse-highest-on-record-following-lockdown-increase/
[iii] Stephanie J Lewis, Louise Arseneault, Avshalom Caspi, Helen L Fisher, Timothy Matthews, Terrie E Moffitt, Candice L Odgers, Daniel Stahl, Jia Ying Teng, Andrea Danese. The epidemiology of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in a representative cohort of young people in England and Wales. Lancet Psychiatry 2019; 6: 247–56.
[iv] Kessler et al. (2010) Childhood adversities and adult psychopathology in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21037215/
[v] Gilbert, R., Widom, C. S., Browne, K., Fergusson, D., Webb, E., & Janson, S. (2009). Burden and consequences of child maltreatment in high-income countries. The Lancet, 373, 68–81. doi:10.1016/ S0140-6736(08)61706-7
[vi] McCrory, E. J., Gerin, M. I., & Viding, E. (2017). Annual research review: childhood maltreatment, latent vulnerability and the shift to preventative psychiatry–the contribution of functional brain imaging. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 58(4), 338-357
[vii] Mezzacappa E, Kindlon D, Earls F. (2001). Child abuse and performance task assessments of executive functions in boys. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 42(8), 1041- 1048.
[viii] Danese, A., & McCrory, E. (2015). Child maltreatment. Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 364-375.
[ix] Widom, C.S., Czaja, S.J., & Dutton, M.A. (2008). Childhood victimization and lifetime revictimization. Child Abuse and Neglect, 32, 785–796.
[x] Widom, C.S., Czaja, S., & Dutton, M.A. (2014). Child abuse and neglect and intimate partner violence victimization and perpetration: A prospective investigation. Child Abuse and Neglect, 38, 650–663.
[xi] Gerin, M. I., Viding, E., Pingault, J. B., Puetz, V. B., Knodt, A. R., Radtke, S. R., … & McCrory, E. J. (2019). Heightened amygdala reactivity and increased stress generation predict internalizing symptoms in adults following childhood maltreatment. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 60(7), 752-761.