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Posttraumatic stress in children exposed to family violence and single-event trauma.

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Department of Maternal and Child Health, Harvard University School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



To examine posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other comorbid forms of psychopathology in a sample of children exposed to chronic abuse and single-event trauma.


School-age children (N = 337) were assessed for exposure to traumatic events (family violence, violent crime, death or illness of someone close to child, accidents) and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Children and mothers received structured diagnostic interviews to assess child psychopathology.


Children from violent households were no more likely to report an extrafamilial traumatic stressor than children from nonviolent homes. Among the children reporting a traumatic event, 24.6% met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. The leading precipitating event for PTSD symptoms was death or illness of someone close to the child (log odds = 4.3). Family violence, violent crime, but not accidents also resulted in PTSD. Children with PTSD displayed comorbidity across different symptom classes, most notably phobias and separation anxiety.


Both type I and type II trauma can result in PTSD in about one quarter of children. Children with posttraumatic stress symptoms had many other forms of comorbid psychopathology, indicating a global and diffuse impact of trauma on children.

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