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Spotlight on Childhood Adversity and Trauma: Advancing Research and Practice

The following is written by our Chief Executive Officer, Professor Peter Fonagy

Today the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families launches a spotlight on Childhood Adversity and Trauma.

Experience of trauma is a vulnerability factor for a range of mental health difficulties. 30-70% of the risk for mental disorder across the population may be explained by childhood adversity and trauma. This is true for depression, eating disorders, anxiety, substance use disorder, psychosis and several other mental disorders.

When trauma occurs at particular points of vulnerability in terms of a child’s development, and/or is chronic, the consequences for relationships and physical and mental health may be more severe. Those who suffer adverse childhood experiences are likely to develop mental health problems earlier in life, with greater symptom severity, higher levels of comorbidity, greater risk for self-harm and suicide, high risk of re-victimization and other interpersonal problems, and poorer response to any kind of treatment.

Research suggests that individuals respond differently to traumatic events. It cannot be assumed that traumatic experiences will necessarily result in the development of stress-related disorders. Individual factors and environmental context affect how people respond to traumatic events.

At the Anna Freud National Centre we are committed to supporting children and families to recover from childhood adversity and trauma, and to finding new ways of preventing mental health problems from arising. Throughout January we will be showcasing innovative research and practice in this area and each week we will focus on a particular theme.

The first theme will be the science of early adversity. We’ll be highlighting ground-breaking research from across the world and providing our ‘top picks’ of the most interesting open-access journal papers. For example, a paper by Professor Eamon McCrory and Professor Essi Viding which introduces the concept of latent vulnerability as a way to understand the links between childhood maltreatment and the development of mental health difficulties.

We’ll also be profiling innovative practice in the area of childhood adversity and trauma. One such approach is our Early Years Parenting Unit in Islington, which Our Patron, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge is visiting today. The unit is an innovative assessment and treatment programme for groups of parents with personality disorders and their children under five who are at risk of being taken into care.

During the spotlight we’ll also highlight approaches that work to improve systems and decision making, including when decisions are being made about taking a child into care.

The final theme will be focused on supporting children and families. We’ll be offering practical advice on psychological first aid for parents and children who have experienced traumatic events. We’ll also be releasing the latest episode in our Child in Mind podcast series, in which we hear Claudia Hammond discussing trauma with David Trickey, a Consultant Clinical Child Psychologist.

The Anna Freud Learning Network seeks to build collaboration and a shared understanding of research and practice to support children’s mental health and wellbeing. To join the Anna Freud Learning Network or to find out more, please visit