By: Angela Pollard
Project Assistant, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago
Trauma and its effects on healthy development has become a bigger part of conversations in helping systems such as child welfare and behavioral health. Too many children experience a variety of potentially traumatic/adverse experiences (ACES), as a result of institutions and systems that often struggle to keep the best interests of children and families in mind.
The standard trauma module of the CANS and ANSA include a number of ACES:
- Abuse (sexual, physical, and emotional) and Neglect
- Medical Trauma
- Natural or Manmade Disaster
- Witness to Family Violence or Community/School Violence
- Victim/Witness to Criminal Activity
- War/Terrorism Affected
- Disruptions in Caregiving/Attachment Losses
- Parental Criminal Behavior
While all of these are distinct experiences, the presence of one potentially traumatic experience can create the conditions for the experience of another. For example, if the parent is arrested and incarcerated because of criminal behavior, a child will also experience a disruption in caregiving/attachment loss. Each kind of traumatic experience can create a level of stress for a child that becomes toxic – preventing healthy physical and psychological development. However, since nurturing relationships with other caregivers can reduce these effects on development, being mindful of when and how children experience disruptions in caregiving or attachment losses is particularly important.
Such disruptions can occur for a variety of reasons, with similar and unique effects:
- End of relationship between joint caregivers
- Removal of the caregiver for protective reasons (i.e. if there is evidence of harmful or inadequate caregiving behaviors on the caregivers part)
- Removal of the caregiver due to his/her immigration status
Regardless of the reason, the direct effects of attachment losses can have long term consequences for mental and physical health. In any stressful situation, the primary caregiver is typically the most effective at calming a child and decreasing the impact of that situation. Without this buffering effect, children are less likely to be able to cope with difficult situations and may have physical/emotional responses that put them at an increased risk for challenges in the moment of disruption and later in life. A disruption in caregiving may occur along with changes in the living situation, financial circumstances, and educational environment of a child.
If not thoughtfully managed, this cascade of changes can be overwhelming for a child or youth. The CANS can be used to effectively communicate the complexity of a child’s story who has experienced a caregiving disruption. By translating the many elements of a child’s life into actionable information, a CANS assessment enables all involved in caring for the child to develop a shared understanding of what’s happening and what needs to happen. Such clear communication between families, providers, and administrators is necessary for successfully planning interventions that will improve the health and well-being of children and their families.
 Center on the Developing Child
 Attachment for Infants in Foster Care: The Role of Caregiver State of Mind
 Psychobiological Mechanisms Underlying the Social Buffering of the HPA Axis
 Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour and cognition
Relational Permanence and Psychological well-being among African American Adolescents in Foster Care
Stay tuned for a spotlight on Angela Pollard and others who will be presenting at this year’s TCOM Conference!