Traumatic Life Events and School-Aged Children's Physical Health: One Exposure is Too Much

Monday, 18 November 2013: 2:05 PM

Janet Anne Lohan, PhD, RN, CPN
College of Nursing, Washington State University, Spokane, WA
Christopher Jay Blodgett, PhD
Area Health Education Center, Washington State University, Spokane, WA

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to cite the relationship between adverse event exposure and physical health problems in children.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to connect global traumatic events to populations of children and point to the effects of that traumatic exposure.

Exposure to trauma has a number of negative effects on young children because of their developmental immaturity and the limited neurological capability of the developing brain.  The purpose of this presentation is to report the results of an interprofessional collaborative incidence and prevalence study.  We asked 181 elementary school teachers from 14 schools in 4 Eastern Washington school districts to describe traumatic event exposure in the 2,101 children in their classrooms. We used a computerized questionnaire to collect data from the teachers, which examined their knowledge of trauma exposures their students had had as well as physical health problems they were aware of in their students.  Van der Kolk’s trauma theory formed the conceptual framework for the study.  Adverse events for this study were defined, and data collected about, parental divorce, parent intimate partner violence, Child Protective Services involvement, parental chronic physical or mental illness, parent in jail, and parent substance abuse.  The research question for this presentation was “what is the relationship between adverse events and physical health problems in school-aged children?” Results of the study showed that, while 55% of the study children were not exposed to any adverse events, nearly 24% of the sample children had been exposed to three or more events, and 7% of the children had been exposed to 5 or more. Our analysis showed that chronic health problems, speech and language problems, and obesity were all significantly linked with exposure to adverse events. More collaborative research including school nurses and speech/language pathologists is needed to explore the relationship between adverse events, physical health symptoms including obesity and chronic health conditions, as well as speech and language issues, in order for nurses and speech/language pathologists to develop and implement appropriate health interventions for traumatized children within school systems.