Child Trauma and Resource Families

This information was originally published on the website of the Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support. Reproduced by permission of Casey Family Programs.

We have been seeing more and more information lately about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced by children who have been abused or neglected, or who have witnessed domestic violence. Unfortunately, most of the children who live with resource families fall into that group. A recent study1 found that about one-third of the children studied who had been physically abused, and over half who had been both physically and sexually abused, showed symptoms of PTSD.

At the same time, we are starting to hear about "secondary traumatic stress" among child welfare workers and parents of children with PTSD.

PTSD and Secondary Traumatic Stress are similar, but also different.
PTSD is a clinical diagnosis that describes a set of symptoms associated with exposure to a traumatic event. These symptoms are directly connected to the primary victim or the individual who was exposed to or experienced the trauma.

Secondary Traumatic Stress is "the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person."2 SecondaryTraumatic Stress can effect a person who is a professional, friend or family member. The symptoms felt by the individual suffering from Secondary Traumatic Stress can be nearly identical to those of the primary victim he or she is trying to help.

The difference between PTSD and Secondary Trauma is that the primary victim of trauma suffers from PTSD while the person in a helping/listening role suffers from Secondary Traumatic Stress.

For more information

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

This page provides an overview of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, including symptoms and resources for working with children.

Terrorism and Trauma

This page addresses the needs that both children and adults have for dealing with terrorism. It provides reading and resources for children and adults facing trauma that has resulted from terrorism

1Prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric diagnoses in three groups of abused children (sexual, physical, and both)

Ackerman, P. T., Newton, J. E., McPherson, W. B., Jones, J. G., & Dykman, R. A. (1998). Prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric diagnoses in three groups of abused children (sexual, physical, and both). Child Abuse & Neglect 22[8], 759-774.

2Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress in those who treat the traumatized

Figley, C.R. (Ed.) (1995). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress in those who treat the traumatized. New York: Brunner/Mazel.



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