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Key messages from the spotlight

  • Why focus on early adversity and trauma?

    Over the past weeks, the Anna Freud Learning Network has highlighted innovative research and practice that aims to support children and families to recover from early adversity and trauma.

    Why focus on early adversity and trauma?

    As our Chief Executive Officer Professor Peter Fonagy explains, individuals respond differently to traumatic events. However, those who suffer adverse childhood experiences are likely to develop mental health problems earlier in life, with more severe symptoms and a poorer response to any kind of treatment.

    The Anna Freud National Centre is 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.

  • Key messages from research

    1.  Those who suffer early adversity and trauma are more likely to develop mental health problems earlier in life, with more severe symptoms, an increased likelihood of comorbidity, and with a poorer response to any kind of treatment.

    2.  Individuals respond differently to traumatic events. Research suggests that the relationship between maltreatment and the development of mental health disorders can vary according to genetic factors.

    3.  Some children who experience maltreatment develop in resilient fashion despite the adversity they face.

  • Key messages from practice

    1.  Looked after children are a vulnerable group, a significant proportion of whom have experienced maltreatment. Children in care are four times more likely than their peers to have a mental health difficulty. [1]

    2.  Mentalization based approaches can support foster carers and adoptive families to understand why a child in their care may be displaying worrying or disruptive behaviour and help improve the child and carer relationship.

    3.  Vulnerable children and families who have faced adversity or who experience mental health problems with co-occurring difficulties such as homelessness or substance abuse may find it more difficult to access appropriate services. Effective multi-agency responses and support delivered in the community can play a role in supporting these children and families.


  • The role of mental health services in court proceedings

    1.  Where children are on the edge of care, families are going through court proceedings or there is chronic parental conflict, the duration and cost of court proceedings, as well as the harm to children, can be significant.

    2.  Multi-disciplinary assessments for children and families going through court proceedings can result in recommendations which are based on the expertise of, and subject to challenge by, multiple professionals.

    3.  That children often remain vulnerable to continuing difficulties after care proceedings conclude [2] denotes the challenges systems and services face, as well as possible opportunities, to become more therapeutic.



  • The impact of traumatic events on children, and how adults can respond

    1.  As David Trickey explains, experiences of trauma may change the way a child sees themselves, the world, and other people. This may affect the way the child behaves.

    2.  Not all young people who experience trauma develop PTSD. The type of traumatic event, but moreover how well a child is supported to think through and process these experiences, can decrease the chances of PTSD developing.

    3.  There are several things adults can do to support children and young people to recover after traumatic events, including helping them to feel safe, calm and in control, as well as helping them to understand what happened.

    4.  Help from professionals can be sought if a child or young person is very distressed or continues to be distressed for an extended period following trauma.