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February 2018Vol. 19, No. 1Barriers to Screening Children for Traumatic Stress

Children entering the child welfare system are likely to have experienced traumatic events that can negatively impact their mental health, behaviors, learning capacities, and interpersonal relationships. While there are multiple barriers to screening children for traumatic stress in the child welfare system, it is important to identify prior exposure as soon as possible to access appropriate treatment and interventions.

"Barriers to Traumatic Stress Screenings in Child Welfare Settings," a recent Practice Notes issue, explains these hurdles and offers child welfare workers tips and recommendations for overcoming them. It points out that while an estimated two-thirds of children in the United States will have experienced a traumatic life event before age 16, fewer than one-tenth receive successful interventions. This may be due to a number of factors, including a failure to recognize trauma, reluctance by a child to revisit upsetting memories or related guilt or shame, and caseworker concerns about retraumatizing a child.

To address some of the most common barriers, the issue recommends several resources and suggests the following for caseworkers:

  • To overcome a lack of training, access free online resources for both screening and assessment, such as the The Traumatic Stress Screening for Child Welfare Professionals Module Series
  • To overcome a lack of time, build in a few extra minutes for a brief trauma screening (e.g., the Traumatic Stress Screen for Children and Adolescents)
  • For caseworkers who feel helpless in their ability to respond and help, access opportunities to learn more about trauma and the available resources
  • For caseworkers who are worried about offending families, ask what they would like to know about trauma and make sure they understand its effects
  • To overcome uncertainty about the appropriate intervention, use available resources to understand options and refer children for treatment
  • To address uneasiness about working with trauma-affected children, be aware that it is normal to feel some discomfort but also very important to overcome such feelings to help the affected children and families

The issue concludes with several reflection questions such as "What are some difficulties you've experienced when trying to help a child you suspect has been exposed to trauma?," "Are there standard procedures in place at your agency?," and "What interventions and practices have been successful? Why do you think they have worked?"

The Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare's Practice Notes issue 28 is available at (637 KB).