The effects of trauma and adversity on children can be profound
Children's biological, psychological, neurological and social wellness can be impacted by trauma. A trauma-informed approach to early learning includes developing a thorough understanding of the ways trauma impacts developmentally on children, and recognising symptoms of trauma.
Trauma can affect people at any stage of life. In early childhood, it can be particularly damaging. Trauma can result from single or repeated adverse childhood experiences and or events, which contribute to a child’s increased vulnerability to mental health conditions. This increased vulnerability can continue into adolescence and adulthood.
Adverse childhood experiences can include health problems in the child or family members, losses and deaths in the family, difficulties relating to financial struggle, marital discord, and family conflict. They can also relate to parenting impairment due to issues such as mental health conditions, or drug or alcohol abuse. It is important that there is increased awareness of the relationship between trauma and mental health conditions.
A trauma-informed practice recognises the prevalence of trauma in our communities. Although many people are affected by trauma, it often isn’t considered in daily interactions. A lack of awareness and sensitivity to trauma can lead people to inadvertently contribute to a person’s trauma and stress. Trauma has a negative impact of the social wellbeing of our communities; however, by employing a trauma-informed approach, we can advocate for increased understanding of the prevalence of trauma and build awareness of trauma in our society and potentially contribute to healing on a larger scale.
Trauma-informed practice is about supporting children to feel safe, to build trust, and to overcome any sense of fear and betrayal. Often, children who have experienced trauma lack a sense of safety. Trauma affects the way children – and adults – approach potentially positive relationships. Creating a safe and supportive environment, committed to trust, choice and collaboration, is a key pillar of a trauma-informed early learning practice.
Our practices apply an understanding of trauma to all aspects and systems, accommodating the vulnerabilities of children experiencing trauma, and minimising the risk of re-traumatisation. Positive experiences can contribute to healing from trauma. Further negative experiences, however, can make emotional and psychological problems worse. It is important to recognise the symptoms of trauma within children and respond accordingly.
A trauma-informed practice also recognises the importance of family and community, and extends their understanding of trauma into these areas. It requires consideration of a child’s whole experience and environment, not just in an early learning setting. Trauma-informed practice emphasises physical, emotional and psychological safety for all: children, their parents, and their wider community. Through collaboration, trauma-informed centres affirm the strengths and resources of these groups, exploring all possible avenues to successfully improve child outcomes. It is vital that a trauma-informed practice recognises the importance of respect, information, and the possibilities for connection within the wider community.
Kids First is grounded in a trauma-informed approach. Our extensive research in partnership with the University of Melbourne has contributed to our Early Years Model, a program proven to contribute to better outcomes for children. Kids First are at the forefront of Australian trauma and vulnerability research. We work with early learning centres around Victoria to ensure trauma-informed practices are embedded, sustained and effective, delivering a holistic approach to child wellbeing and building children’s resilience and strengths.