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Infant Mental Health Awareness Week: Understanding early trauma

This year, Infant Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place 13-19 June with the theme of ‘Understanding Early Trauma’.

Approximately one-third of all mental health problems are associated with exposure to childhood trauma and adversity1. Experiencing trauma, such as exposure to domestic abuse, in the earliest years can have a significant impact on brain development, potentially leaving serious and lasting consequences that can create difficulties for the child into their adult years. Secure relationships with parents and carers can reduce stress caused by trauma and limit the long term impact it has on babies’ development.

Dr Abigail Miranda, Head of Early Years and Prevention at the Anna Freud Centre, says: “Experiencing or witnessing traumatic events in childhood can have particularly devastating consequences. We know that from the earliest years, a child's trusted relationships with the adults around them play a key role in recovery, as they directly influence how the brain grows and develops.

“This Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, we would like to shine a light on the impact of early trauma and how adults can be supported to look after the mental health of the under 5s in their care.”

This week, the Anna Freud Centre is highlighting the range of resources available to help early years professionals understand the impact of trauma on under 5s, and what they can do to support their mental health. These resources include the UK Trauma Council’s Childhood Trauma and the Brain animation and resources, which look at what happens in the brain after children face traumatic experiences in childhood, like abuse and neglect.

The Centre is sharing Early Years in Mind resources looking at working with families facing challenges (including supporting adoptive parents), supporting young children and families through bereavement, as well as resources on coronavirus and how under 5s can be supported. The Centre will also share an early years staff wellbeing resource because, if staff wellbeing is promoted, then staff are better equipped to support the young children in their care.

The Anna Freud Centre is hosting the following free events:

  • On Wednesday 15 June, the National Centre for Family Hubs will host an event on early trauma and cultural sensitivity. This event is for anyone developing or working in, or through, family hubs. It will explore trauma and the impact that cultural context has on the relationships between infants and their parents or carers.
  • On Thursday 16 June, the Early Years in Mind network is hosting an event on trauma and repair. This event will reflect on how global traumatic events and socio-historic trauma can be present in early years settings, as well as developmental trauma. Early years settings do not exist outside of wider societal structures, so it’s important to be aware of how inequalities, discrimination and personal biases contribute to trauma, how this affects families, and how early years practitioners can support with repair.
  • On Friday 24 June, the UK Trauma Council is hosting an event on Childhood trauma, the brain and the social world. It is understood that childhood trauma impacts the developing brain, and such changes can profoundly impact a child’s social world, with important implications for their development and mental health. How can professionals better support young people who have experienced childhood trauma to foster and maintain healthy social relationships?

1 Kessler et al. (2010) Childhood adversities and adult psychopathology in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys