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Preventing Complex Trauma

What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma is the unpredictable and chronic exposure to a cluster of events, most often within a child’s care-giving system, that is intended to be a child’s primary source of safety and stability. There are multiple trauma types:

  • Intimate – physical or sexual abuse, neglect, family violence
  • Societal – war, community violence, racism and bigotry
  • Unintended injuries, illness, loss of loved ones
  • Prolonged and often chronic exposure to stress or trauma which may also include substance abuse, mental illness, child maltreatment, homelessness, poverty, and more

Identifying and Mitigating Complex Trauma

Complex trauma is identified as a principal threat to the social/emotional competency and learning success of children. A child’s exposure to harmful experiences directly correlates with reduced ability to focus and learn in school, as well as with increased rates of crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and abusive relationships. Awareness of the threat trauma poses provides a unifying conceptual framework for supporting developmental goals (health, academic, social and emotional) for all children through phased efforts towards early identification and remediation of trauma’s effects.

Our Complex Trauma Work

For more than 15 years, CAFRU has worked to understand the cumulative impacts of multiple forms of family and community violence on the developmental capacities and successes of children, including the neurobiological impacts of exposure to complex trauma. Our work focuses on factors that can reduce negative developmental outcomes that support resiliency. Much of this work has been accomplished through research, program evaluation, and developmental activities as part of federal- and state-funded projects.


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