A growing body of research literature is examining connections between physical health, health service use, and children’s exposure to traumatic events.  A recent study of more than 200 1 to 5 year olds found that young children with greater exposure to traumatic events were nearly 3 times more likely to have recently visited the ED for a health concern.  (A caveat in interpreting these results: the study included only children whose families were seeking developmental services or mental health consultation, so may not be representative of all young children.)

There are lessons here for clinicians in Emergency Departments and in the mental health system. 

The ED offers many opportunities to identify very young children who present with a medical concern, but whose young lives unfortunately already include a high degree of exposure to traumatic events. Brief ED-based interventions, and even a kind word to children and parents that signals that the ED clinician understands their life experiences, can make a difference. That’s the basis of “trauma-informed” ED care. 

In the mental health system, it’s imperative to remember to ask parents about their young child’s physical health, and to promote each child’s connection to a primary care medical home. The American Academy of Pediatrics has wonderful resources and tools to support the development of medical homes for children exposed to violence.

If you take care of young patients, how do you pay attention to the connection between trauma exposure and physical health?