by Comprehensive Staff

01/19/2017 6:21 pm

The 12 Core Concepts for Understanding Traumatic Stress Responses in Children and Families

Average Age 12 Years

The 12 Core Concepts for Understanding Traumatic Stress Responses in Children and Families

1.      Traumatic experiences are inherently complex.

Each experience has its own series of actions exhibited by the perpetrators in an event and the reactions of the victim and include "varying degrees of objective life threat, physical violation and witnessing of injury or death".  The victim observes what's going on around them and decides what's best for them in that moment in terms of safety and self-protection.

2.      Trauma occurs within a broad context that includes youth's personal characteristic, life experiences and current circumstances.

No victim is the same and therefore no scenario is the same.  A victim will make decisions based on their own past experiences, patterns and former actions of the perpetrator in front of them or other perpetrators they have encountered and what they believe they are capable of.

3.      Victims of traumatic events often generate secondary adversities, life changes, and distressing reminders in youth's daily lives.

Seemingly ordinary sounds, smells and images can remind victims of their trauma and cause them to react uncharacteristically which can damage their sense of "normalcy"

4.      Youth can exhibit a wide range of reactions to trauma and loss.

Reactions to trauma and loss can include rage, defiance, avoidance, self-medication or even self-harm.

5.      Danger and safety are primary concerns in the lives of youth who have had traumatic experiences.

After a traumatic experience, youth's may find it difficult to trust others or feel comfortable even in obviously safe environments.

6.      Traumatic experiences affect the family and broader caregiving system.

Due to victim's difficulty in feeling comfortable in everyday life, relationships may begin to suffer.

7.      Protective and promotive factors can reduce the adverse impact of trauma.

With the support of the adults around them, in addition to support from people their own age, over time victims can recover mentally and emotionally from trauma.

8.      Trauma and post-trauma adversities can strongly influence development.

In many instances, victims were forced to miss or alter what would have been an ordinary childhood or adolescence and skew a victim's mental and emotional progression.

9.      Developmental neurobiology underlies youth's reactions to traumatic experiences.

Youth victims of trafficking may develop a state of "survival" mode that never quite goes away, even in obviously safe and should be comfortable scenarios.

10.  Culture is closely interwoven with traumatic experiences, responses and recovery.

In addition to specific past experiences, the culture and social environment the youth grew up in can affect their perception of themselves as a victim and trafficking experience.

11.  Challenges to the social contract, including legal and ethical issues, affect trauma response and recovery.

In some cases, the legal system had failed victims in the past, and new victims are aware of this. They may distrust those who have the power to help them including law enforcement or judicial professionals.

12.  Working with trauma-exposed youth and their families can be extremely rewarding.


Adults who choose to work directly with and help recovering victims of human trafficking may feel a sense of moral gratification but it is important for those working with the victims to keep their own mental and emotional wellbeing highest on their priority list.