Exposure to Childhood Traumas
Exposure to Childhood Traumas
Last week I sat quietly listening to our admissions team as they reviewed children’s applications for admission into our care. People often ask me to describe our residents. As I listened to their conversation about children, I realized one explanation of who our kids are is fairly simple. It’s right there in our new Application and Admission Assessment Form which parents or guardians complete.

The particular section is titled, “Exposure to Childhood Trauma”. The instructions state, “Place a check mark by any of the traumas the child has experienced. Provide information about the child’s experience of these traumatic events in the space below the checklist.”

Here’s the list (but I leave one item out because this blog is for the general public):

List of Traumatic Events the Child has Experienced

  • Has been bullied
  • Victim of physical assault resulting in injury
  • Victim of physical assault with a weapon
  • Has witnessed a shooting or knife attack
  • Victim of a shooting or knife attack
  • (This item removed)
  • Robbed by a nonsibling
  • Physically abused by a caregiver
  • Has witnessed domestic violence
  • Is a victim of domestic violence
  • Has attempted suicide
  • Has witnessed a suicide
  • Was kidnapped by a stranger
  • Was kidnapped by a family member
  • Has witnessed the sexual assault of a family member or friend
  • Is a victim of sexual assault by a family member or friend
  • Has witnessed the sexual assault of a stranger
  • Is a victim of sexual assault by a stranger
  • Has been prostituted by a non-family member
  • Has been prostituted by a family member
  • Has witnessed the death of a loved one
  • Has witnessed the murder of a stranger
  • Has witnessed the murder of a friend/neighbor
  • Has witnessed the murder of a parent
  • Has witnessed the murder of a sibling
  • Has witnessed the murder of any other family member

This is a heart-rending checklist. These are the children for whom we care. We ask for this information in a standardized way because the events are common enough childhood experiences. We expect to see check marks on the list and are surprised when there are none.

I believe our society’s immune system has become strong to the point of callousness to protect our sensitivities against what we know happens to children. We have become immune to what we see in the media because we see it so often and because it usually touches another family, not our own. When one reads about an assault or a murder in the newspaper or hears about it on the television news, it is easy to ignore it or move on quickly to the next story.

But that sexual assault, that murder, that rape, that fight mentioned in the news is often witnessed by children in the home or in their own neighborhood. Even a mature, psychologically stable adult cannot not walk away from those events untouched. Children are overwhelmed by them, become fearful, turn inward, become less verbal.

Simply stated, they are traumatized.

Then, and especially if no one has cared for their emotional needs, as they grow into adolescence they become incorrigible or even aggressive as they act out the pent up rage from unresolved trauma. (I believe Louisiana’s new Coordinated System of Care may be our state’s best shot at providing early intervention directly in the homes of children and families. The home and community-based services made available by CSoC must be developed in Louisiana.)

Of course, when the child is himself or herself assaulted the consequences are even deeper than when they are a witness to another person’s victimization.

Notice some of the subtle differences in the checklist items which seek to find out if the traumatic event occurred to the child or was witnessed by the child. They also seek to clarify the child’s relationship with the person who committed the act, “loved one”, “stranger”, “friend/neighbor”, “parent”, “sibling”, “nonsibling”. These distinctions are important because the impact of childhood traumas will vary depending upon the child’s age, whether the child was a victim or witness and the child’s relationship to the person committing the traumatic act.

Who are our children? Who are the children we care for at Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home in Ruston, Methodist Children’s Home of Southwest Louisiana in Sulphur and Methodist Home for Children of Greater New Orleans in Mandeville? They are children who have experienced traumatic events like those in the list above and who need intensive treatment for the psychological and spiritual impact of their traumas. When you support us with your prayers, you now know how to pray for our children.

Rick Wheat, President and Chief Executive Officer
Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services

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