Tutorial 7 · Recognizing and Addressing Trauma in Infants, Young Children, and their Families
Gathering Information from Early Head Start and Head Start Staff and Families
Sensitive inquiry and observation
Most often, a mental health consultant is alerted to a concern about a child or family by Early Head Start and Head Start staff. Sometimes, during a regular classroom observation, the consultant will note a child whose behavior is concerning. In either circumstance, consultation — child and family centered consultation — always includes sensitive inquiry and observation. There can be particularly sensitive issues to explore in the case of children impacted by trauma, especially when a family member or other caregiver may be involved in the traumatizing event or circumstances. Consultants should consider the following when gathering trauma specific information:
Trauma focused screening instruments for use with young children are less well developed than those for older children. A place to start may be using the Early Head Start/Head Start intake assessment that for example, includes inquiry about domestic violence and safety in the home (Groves, 2007). Some standardized screening instruments may be useful in an initial phase of information gathering (such as the Child Behavior Check List (CBCL)), others are more likely to be part of a clinical intake assessment after referring the child and family for intervention services from a trauma-informed provider. Three examples that are more specific to trauma experiences, symptoms, and contextual history specific to trauma assessment for young children and families are (links open in new browser windows):
(Chadwick Center for Children and Families, 2009)
Determine the safety of the child, family, and their environment
In many trauma circumstances, one of the first tasks is to determine the safety of the child, the family, and their environment. Many Head Start programs have established a program-wide crisis response plan. Working in partnership with Early Head Start and Head Start staff, engage in information gathering and inquiry that focuses on:
Report suspected child abuse and neglect
Child abuse and neglect includes a variety of experiences that are considered to be traumatic to young children (physical, psychological, sexual abuse and physical neglect). It is a growing problem in the United States, a problem that occurs across all cultures and socio-economic levels, and can be viewed differently across cultures and time. The link between poverty, multiple family stressors, and lack of community supports for young children and families are particularly relevant to those served by Early Head Start and Head Start.
Early Head Start and Head Start staff, along with mental health consultants, play a powerful role in identifying and reporting evidence of abuse and neglect. Staff and consultants are mandated reporters of suspected abuse and neglect. Each Early Head Start and Head Start program is required to have a policy and procedure for documenting and filing a report of suspected abuse and neglect that complies with their specific state requirements. Be sure to request a copy from your Program Director or a staff member.
For children who have experienced the types of trauma associated with abuse and neglect, additional supports within the context of a caring environment in the early care and education setting may be needed.
This website was made possible by grant number 90YD0268 from the Office of Head Start, Administration for Children, Youth and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views or policies of the funding agency nor does publication in any way constitute an endorsement by the funding agency.