More often than not when discussing pediatric medical traumatic stress and trauma informed care, the child is the patient. What happens when this is flipped? Is trauma informed care needed or helpful? Can a child experience medical traumatic stress reactions when they're not the one receiving medical care?
The resounding answer is yes...yes trauma informed care is still needed and helpful. Yes a child can experience traumatic stress reactions even when they are not the one receiving medical care. Most people can attest that medical care can, and usually is to some degree, frightening for children and teens (and adults) regardless of the situation. Seeing a parent/caregiver in sick , in pain and needing medical care can be very challenging to cope with for a child of any age. Young children may not fully comprehend the situation. Teens may feel helpless or overwhelmed. If this same child or teen needs to step into the caregiver role, taking on daily household chores, cooking, and even hygiene care, they often "fall behind in school, suffer from sleep deprivation and struggle with depression, anxiety and stress", according to Gail G. Hunt of the National Alliance for Caregiving. How does trauma informed care fit into this scenario?
Fortunately, the basic tenets of trauma informed care do not change. As a provider, you still want to assess the level of distress, emotional support, and family needs of your patient and their family. However, when assessing the family needs, special attention should be paid to coordinating resources with social work, home care, respite services, as well as the child's school and other family / community support person(s). Also understanding the parent/ caregiver's changing role within the family and helping them adjust and cope should be a priority as well.
To learn more about assessing family needs within a trauma informed care framework, register for the free online course "F is for Family: Remembering Family Stress and Coping" (1.0 CE for nurses). Join our conversation about child caregivers on our Facebook page to share how you help children cope with being a caregiver.