Health, trauma and recovery

Abuse, neglect and trauma prevents healthy brain development in early years and over a prolonged period of time, stress responses become excessive and toxic to the body, which can have life long consequences. Toxic stress turns off any functions that slow down reactions – functions that can be essential to protecting ourselves when faced with a threat.

These lost functions include: the ability to self-regulate, the ability to process information and make sense of the world, and the ability to interact positively with other people. Children and young people who have experienced adversity that creates toxic stress are traumatised and often struggle with every aspect of daily life

This is of concern to the IRCT, because prolonged activation of the stress response system leads to poor outcomes in regards to physical and mental health, and life expectancy.

The physical health outcome of looked after children in often measured by health practitioner’s registrations and immunisations, which reveal that in 2015, 88% of looked after children are up to date on their immunisations, that 90% have had their annual health check, that 84% are registered with a GP and that 62% are registered with a dentist. However, this does not give a true indication of young people’s health. Although looked after children receive equal health treatment compared to non-looked after children, they often suffer from more health problems. Many suffer problems related to physical disability, weight loss, speech/sight impediments, bed-wetting, asthma, allergies and pregnancy related issues.

The health outcomes of looked after and traumatised children is far bleaker, with half of all looked after children in the United Kingdom suffering from some kind of mental health problem. A nationally representative study indicated that 42% of looked after children were suffering fro a mental health disorder, compared to only 8% of the non-care population and 9.7% of non-looked after children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Further, it is of concern to the IRCT that the mental health of young people deteriorates by twofold upon leaving care, as young traumatised adults are often unable to cope independently.

The IRCT aims to highlight the adverse effects of toxic stress on the mental and physical health of young people, by increasing awareness of such issues.

Key Points that are essential to know:

  • Toxic stress can have adverse effects on the health of young people
  • Mental health issues are of high prevalence among LAC
  • Mental wellbeing deteriorates upon leaving care if it remains unaddressed

Checklist for those working with children who are traumatised:

  • Acknowledge the importance of wellbeing of young people on all aspects of their life
  • For those working within social services, acknowledge the consequences of a young person moving on before they have recovered
  • Keep learning – new research is emerging all the time, and learning from it to develop practice also builds your own resilience