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"Look Through Their Eyes" to Identify Childhood Trauma

PHOTO: The Look Through Their Eyes campaign educates Illinoisans about the signs of childhood trauma, and connects parents and caregivers of children who have experienced trauma to professionals, programs and resources. Photo credit: Phaedra Wilkinson/morguefile.
PHOTO: The Look Through Their Eyes campaign educates Illinoisans about the signs of childhood trauma, and connects parents and caregivers of children who have experienced trauma to professionals, programs and resources. Photo credit: Phaedra Wilkinson/morguefile.
December 18, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Many children look forward to the holidays, but the season is sometimes not so magical for those who are victims of trauma.

An estimated 42 percent of Illinois children ages 17 and younger have experienced one or more adverse family events. Anne Studzinski, managing director of the Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition, says these children often are worried about what may happen to them, which can affect their brain development.

"They don't trust the world," she says. "So, if I'm sitting in school, supposed to be learning math and I'm worried about whether I'm safe, I'm not going to be learning math. It's the same thing with those kinds of basic skills that little ones learn even before they get to school."

She explains traumatic experiences include one-time events, such as a natural disaster or illness, or daily occurrences, such as abuse, neglect or household stress. Trauma also can stem from the loss of a parent, living in severe poverty or with neighborhood community violence.

Research shows that chronic disease and cancer are among the long-term effects of childhood trauma. And Studzinski says it also can contribute to risky behavior in teens.

"A teenager that's gone through childhood trauma may have multiple sexual partners," she says. "They're more apt to start to smoking and continue to smoke. Those kinds of things that we know have an impact on long-term health."

The Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition's Look Through Their Eyes campaign offers resources to help parents and caregivers approach their child if they suspect they've experienced trauma.

"We find in talking to children about childhood trauma that 'happened' is a magic word. We're not asking what's wrong with a child, we're asking, 'What happened, what's changed?' And they're much more apt to talk about what's happened if you put the question that way."

Changes in sleeping habits, fears or behaviors can be signs of trauma. Studzinski says all adults – not just parents – should be in tune with what's happening in the lives of the children around them.

"The nice thing about other people in children's lives is sometimes, they're more apt to notice things than if a parent is with a child all day, every day," she explains. "It might be the babysitter, someone at school. It could be just the neighbor."

More information about the campaign is online at lookthroughtheireyes.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL