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February 2012Vol. 13, No. 1Effects of Trauma on Adolescent Brain Development

While significant brain development occurs during early childhood, neuroscience research now shows that there is important development during adolescence as the brain experiences significant chemical changes and adolescents begin to take on more adult tasks. Science has also uncovered details about the effects of trauma and trauma recovery on adolescent brain development.

A new report from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative suggests that this research provides a foundation for developing trauma-informed practices to support growth for youth in foster care and those transitioning to independence. The Adolescent Brain: New Research and Its Implications for Young People Transitioning From Foster Care reviews the research on adolescent brain development and the accompanying developmental tasks that adolescents face, and it points to the relationships and supports that youth in foster care need as they transition to adulthood. According to the report, offsetting the effects of trauma requires sufficient supports, strong relationships, positive opportunities, and adequate services. Child welfare systems with a trauma focus can deliver trauma-specific services and put adolescents on a path toward healing.

The report presents recommendations for developing trauma-informed practices to foster positive development for youth in foster care:

  • Take a positive youth development approach to all opportunities for young people in foster care.
  • Provide "interdependent" living services that connect young people with family and caring adults.
  • Engage young people in their own planning and decision-making.
  • Be trauma-informed to promote healing and emotional security.
  • Extend developmentally appropriate foster care to age 21.

The full report, the executive summary, and other materials are available on the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative website:

Related Item

The University of Oklahoma OUTREACH Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Centers (RHYTTAC) published a two-page factsheet on trauma that includes tips for integrating trauma-informed programs specifically tailored for runaway and homeless youth, how agencies can evaluate their trauma-informed care, and other resources.

What Is Trauma? is available on the RHYTTAC website: