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October 2014Vol. 15, No. 9Combined Effects of Interpersonal Violence and Attachment-Based Trauma

Trauma of any type can have significant negative effects on youth. Many youth in child welfare have experienced both violent trauma that was severe and repeated, as well as nonviolent interpersonal trauma that included severe impairments in caregiving or emotional abuse. The complex trauma these youth experience may not be fully captured by the currently available diagnostic tools or treatments. An article in the Journal of Family Violence explored the effects of these two types of trauma, both on their own and in combination, on youth's symptoms and on child welfare-related outcomes.

The study, which examined a sample of more than 16,000 youth in the Illinois child welfare system, found that youth who had been exposed to violent and nonviolent interpersonal trauma exhibited much more significant difficulties across all the assessed symptoms than those children that experienced only one form of trauma (either violence or nonviolent) or those that experienced less severe or no trauma. The symptoms included affective and physiological dysregulation (e.g., anger control, sensory issues), attentional and behavioral dysregulation (impulse control, suicide risk), self and relational dysregulation (attachment, social functioning), posttraumatic spectrum symptoms (numbing, dissociation), and functional impairment (school achievement, legal issues). Additionally, youth who had experienced both violent and nonviolent trauma were significantly more likely to have placement disruptions or psychiatric hospitalizations.

The study authors noted that the results provide support for the use of a developmental trauma framework when assessing and treating trauma-exposed youth.

"Constellations of Interpersonal Trauma and Symptoms in Child Welfare: Implications for a Developmental Trauma Framework," by Kisiel, C. L., Fehrenbach, T., Torgersen, E., Stolbach, B., McClelland, G., Griffin, G., & Burkman, K., Journal of Family Violence, 29(1), 2014, is available here: (532 KB)