June 24, 2024

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Trauma screening may improve mental health service recommendations for children

3 min read

One potential concern arises from the fact that — despite the heightened rates of referral for services prompted by the trauma screening — the results did not demonstrate a corresponding increase in children receiving trauma-related services. The data in this study do not explain why the recommendations did not lead to more services being documented in the child welfare record, but the researchers agreed that identifying that disconnect is critically important so that they can understand and rectify it. Potential explanations include challenges in accessing services within communities or a failure to document services that were provided. 

“Ultimately, the goal is to connect children who have experienced trauma to the services and supports they need,” Connell said. “Our results show that screening can be an important part of that process, but that further work is required to make the connection. The next step is identifying the barriers to providing trauma-related services and then connecting each child with the specific help they need.” 

The Child Trauma Screen has been translated into several languages and is used by juvenile courts and child welfare systems in multiple states and localities in the U.S. and internationally. Connell and Lang said that there are multiple valid tools that can be used for trauma screening, but the most important thing is that children should be screened for trauma experiences and trauma-related symptoms if there in an opportunity to connect them with necessary services. 

“Most children who suffer from traumatic stress do not receive behavioral health services, and some suffer in silence alone without telling anybody what they experienced,” Lang said. “Screening is an effective strategy for identifying children who are suffering and providing support and connection with behavioral health or other services. Unfortunately, trauma screening is not commonly used in many settings where it can be helpful, so we are also creating trainings for adults who work with children.” 

The Child Health and Development Institute is developing a web-based training program about trauma screening for social workers, health care providers, educators and other people who work with children. Trauma ScreenTIME is a five-module, web-based training on trauma screening developed with funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Child Traumatic Stress Network. So far, over 1,600 people have enrolled and more than 500 have completed the training, according to Connell, who is evaluating the effects of the training among participants. 

Modules for people who work in schools and pediatric medical care are available now, and modules for people who work in early childcare, child welfare and juvenile justice are in development. Like the Child Trauma Screen, the Trauma ScreenTime trainings are available for free online. 

“Many child-serving professionals are reluctant or don’t feel equipped to talk with children and families about trauma,” Lang said. “Trauma ScreenTIME provides comprehensive courses in trauma-screening best practices. The trainings address common questions and concerns and provide simple strategies that can be used in virtually any child-serving setting.” 

Ann Shun Swanson, graduate student at Penn State, and Maegan Genovese, research associate at The Consultation Center in the Yale School of Medicine, also contributed to this research. 

The United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and the Children’s Bureau funded this project. 

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