Helping Children Who Experience Trauma:

The Role of Trauma Screening

children playing

What is Trauma?

Trauma is complex and may include many different types of events and a range of effects.

Potentially Traumatic Events and Adversity

Many children experience trauma exposure and other forms of adversity, such as:

Physical or Sexual Abuse
Family and Community Violence
Death of a Loved One
Racism and Discrimination
Children Icon

0% of all children have experienced at least one trauma exposure by the age of 18. That is 0 million children in the United States.

Effects of Trauma

While many children exposed to trauma recover with the support of family and friends, some children experience lingering or worsening concerns, such as:

Emotional Numbing
Negative Thoughts
Shame and Guilt
Behavior Problems
Substance Abuse

16% of children exposed to trauma will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If unaddressed, trauma exposure can lead to long-term health, mental health, and social problems.

The support of a caregiver or loved one is the most important thing to help a child recover from trauma.

Large Illustration

Did you know?

Trauma screening is a crucial first step in helping children exposed to trauma, and their families, recover from the trauma exposure and its effects. While most children recover with support of their caregivers, many children who experience ongoing traumatic stress are not identified and do not receive the trauma-focused services that can help them recover. Often, even parents, caregivers, teachers, doctors, and other caring adults are unaware of a child’s trauma history or traumatic stress. Screening is an efficient and effective way to identify children who may need help with traumatic stress who may not volunteer the information about their trauma unless directly asked.

Several screening measures exist that can be completed in fewer than 10 minutes. For many children, particularly those with little or no trauma exposure or reactions, screening will only take a few minutes. Screening can also save time and costs by identifying service needs early, before problems worsen and require more intensive support.

Screening measures can be administered by child-serving professionals without a clinical background as long as they have adequate training and support. Screening differs from formal clinical assessments and evaluations for diagnosing PTSD and other mental health conditions, which do require a clinical background.

Extreme distress is very rare during trauma screening. Screening measures are often designed to limit detailed discussions about a child’s trauma exposure. Sometimes, mild or even moderate distress may occur, but this is almost always temporary and manageable. Distress can be minimized and reduced with support from a person administering the measure who helps make the child and family feel safe and supported if distress does occur. Additionally, many people find it helpful and even feel relieved to be asked about trauma exposure and reactions, particularly when this is done empathetically with support and services available.

Did you know. Icon 4

Trauma screening is not solely about identifying a need for mental health services. Whenever possible, screening should include a brief but important conversation with the child and/or family about trauma. This typically includes basic information about trauma, understanding and acknowledging what the child and family are experiencing (if anything), and offering nonjudgmental support and discussion about next steps.

Trauma-focused, evidence-based treatments are becoming increasingly available. Availability will vary locally, but several resources exist to help you determine what is available in your area. There is also a growing number of trauma specialists available through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Who does trauma screening help?

The child and the family

The child and the family

  • Supports recovery and reduces effects of trauma exposure
  • Destigmatizes conversations about trauma
  • Helps the child and family feel heard/listened to
  • Provides the child and family with strategies to support the child and improve communication
  • Provides the family with important information about trauma exposure and its effects
You as a professional

You as a professional

  • Allows you to identify trauma exposure and effects early, before problems worsen
  • Allows you to support the child/family through a discussion about trauma
  • Enhances resiliency and may reduce the likelihood of some types of trauma exposure in the future
  • Informs your service planning for the child/family
  • Offers insight into a child’s functioning and behavior
  • Identifies need for trauma assessment/treatment
Your organization

Your organization

  • An efficient way to identify needs and match to services
  • Proactive instead of reactive
  • A key component of a trauma-informed organization
Training Icon

You can screen children for trauma. A free training is available!

Trauma ScreenTIME, an initiative of SAMHSA’s National Child Traumatic Stress Network, is designed to improve child trauma screening across child-serving systems nationwide.

The training utilizes best practices in trauma screening, recommendations from child-serving professionals, and input from family members with lived experience. ScreenTIME training can be used by schools, primary care, child welfare, juvenile justice, early childhood systems, and other child-serving programs.

Course Overview Video

The ScreenTIME training is now live!