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Impact of trauma

Experiencing trauma can contribute to young people unconsciously re-enacting scenarios from their past or engaging in behaviours such as substance use, sexual exploitation, self-harm or aggression as a way to manage ‘intrusive traumatic reminders’ (Robinson and Miller, 2012, pp 11). Our brains are sculpted by our early experiences, and maltreatment shapes a brain to contend with conflict, at the cost of deep, enduring wounds (Teicher, 2000).

The adverse effects of complex trauma on individual functioning are pervasive. They significantly disrupt key developmental processes in at least three major domains of young people (Kezelman & Stavropoulos, 2012; Siegel & Hartzell, 2004):

  • attachment—the capacity to form and maintain healthy emotional and mutually safe and supportive relationships
  • self-regulation—the capacity to modulate emotions, manage impulse control and self-calm during times of stress and turmoil
  • development of competencies—particularly to achieve educational outcomes and complete basic developmental tasks of adolescence

We need to know our young people well. We also need to empower them by using inclusive decision making on issues such as where they will live and other lifestyle choices

Note

‘It is now clear that what a child experiences in the first few years of life largely determines how his/her brain will develop and how he/she will interact with the world throughout his/her life’. (Ounce of Prevention Fund, 1996)

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