Childhood trauma refers to experiences that include children and young people who have lived in war torn countries and refugee camps, who have experienced child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, exposure to domestic and family violence or who have lived with parents with mental illness and/or drug and alcohol abuse.

These types of childhood trauma are referred to as chronic childhood trauma, which is when the trauma is repeated and prolonged, as opposed to a single incident childhood trauma (such as a car accident or the death of a parent or sibling).

Chronic childhood trauma becomes complex childhood trauma when there are varied and multiple traumas, (for example, when there is domestic and family violence, drug abuse and neglect), when the trauma is early onset and when it is interpersonal (by a trusted caregiver).

Developmental childhood trauma defines the impacts of complex childhood trauma on a child’s neurobiological development. The experience of trauma interrupts normal age appropriate developmental processes as the child’s systems are forced to develop survival strategies that support them to respond to and survive their traumatic environments.

Developmental childhood trauma can:

  •      reduce capacity for self-awareness
  •      disrupt the brain’s ability to store memories correctly and be available for learning and memory
  •      make it difficult to accurately read other people’s facial expressions
  •      over-sensitise the bodies alarm system
  •      damage the ability to form healthy, loving and safe attachments with others
  •      reduce the capacity to recognise and manage feelings and emotions
  •      reduce the ability to have attention and focus

Most of the girls who come into the SISTER2sister mentoring program have experienced complex childhood trauma and developmental childhood trauma and this is reflected in the challenges they present with when they are referred to the program.

Impact of childhood trauma

Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. As such, early experiences are an important public health issue. Much of the foundational research in this area has been referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

There is evidence that childhood trauma leads to a range of negative outcomes in adult life. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) shape the brain’s organisation, which, in turn, influences emotional, social, cognitive, and physiological development. The ACE study has demonstrated that the greater the number of adverse childhood experiences the stronger the graded relationship “to numerous health, social, and behavioural problems throughout their lifespan, including substance use disorders”.

This includes a greater likelihood of: health problems over the life span, including increased rates of chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes; academic failure; behavioural problems; trouble holding down a job; suicide; depression; and, higher rates of addiction.

More about the ACE Study on childhood trauma can be found here

The majority of the Little Sisters who enter the SISTER2sister program are coming from backgrounds with varying levels of chronic, complex, and/or developmental trauma and who will have had two or more adverse childhood experiences. Because of this, LCEF uses a trauma framework across all aspects of program development and delivery. This framework incorporates the latest research and practice into the impact of early childhood trauma on the development of the brain and how this shapes the cognitive, emotional, physical and social templates that a child carries with them throughout their lives.