B. Trauma Impacts a Child's Development and Health

The groundbreaking 1998 study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the replicated studies which followed demonstrate that childhood stress is linked to poor health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, depression, heart disease, cancer, and stroke as well as alcohol and drug abuse, low graduation rates, and poor employment outcomes.[152] The presence of ACEs does not mean that a child is guaranteed to experience poor life outcomes. Positive experiences and protective factors can prevent children from experiencing adversity and protect against many negative health and life outcomes.[153]

Undoubtedly, children and youth who experience abuse or neglect, are removed from their families, or interact with the child welfare system are vulnerable to experiencing trauma. Further, many parents and caregivers may have their own experiences with trauma and systems must respond to the needs of children and families through a trauma-informed lens. This requires judges, attorneys, court staff, and other stakeholders to understand how traumatic responses manifest in the children and families in front of the court and subsequently change courtroom practices and the courtroom environment to help families feel supported and build resilience. In doing so, serving children and families can move beyond responding to behaviors to promoting healing.

It is important to note that no age is immune to the effects of traumatic experiences, including infants and toddlers. Traumatic stress will manifest differently from child to child and will depend on the child's age and developmental level.[154]

Children who are not experiencing consistent safety, comfort, and protection may develop ways of coping that allow them to survive and function day-to-day. These learned adaptations make sense when a physical and/or emotional threat is pervasive but are not helpful once a person is no longer under such threats.[155] Additionally, unaddressed trauma can lead to long-term effects into adulthood.

Some potential effects of trauma are:[156]

•   Difficulties with emotional regulation, focus, and self-control (when in fight or flight mode, the brain loses executive functions that do not serve fight or flight, such as higher learning and problem-solving which contribute substantially to school success);

•   Anxious and avoidant behaviors;

•   Difficulty developing strong, healthy attachment to caregivers and others;

•   Distrust of people in authority, who are seen as threats;

•   Over-responding or under-responding to sensory stimuli;

•   Misinterpreting motives, facial expressions, body language in others;

•   Difficulties belonging and playing well with others;

•   Difficulty with problem solving and decision-making;

•   Chronic or recurrent physical complaints;

•   Potential impacts to self-efficacy; and/or

•   More likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.