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Child Abuse Negl. 2011 Jul;35(7):504-13. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2011.03.009. Epub 2011 Aug 3.

Traumatic and stressful events in early childhood: can treatment help those at highest risk?

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Child Trauma Research Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, USA.



This study involves a reanalysis of data from a randomized controlled trial to examine whether child-parent psychotherapy (CPP), an empirically based treatment focusing on the parent-child relationship as the vehicle for child improvement, is efficacious for children who experienced multiple traumatic and stressful life events (TSEs).


Participants comprised 75 preschool-aged children and their mothers referred to treatment following the child's exposure to domestic violence. Dyads were randomly assigned to CPP or to a comparison group that received monthly case management plus referrals to community services and were assessed at intake, posttest, and 6-month follow-up. Treatment effectiveness was examined by level of child TSE risk exposure (<4 risks versus 4+ TSEs).


For children in the 4+ risk group, those who received CPP showed significantly greater improvements in PTSD and depression symptoms, PTSD diagnosis, number of co-occurring diagnoses, and behavior problems compared to those in the comparison group. CPP children with <4 risks showed greater improvements in symptoms of PTSD than those in the comparison group. Mothers of children with 4+ TSEs in the CPP group showed greater reductions in symptoms of PTSD and depression than those randomized to the comparison condition. Analyses of 6-month follow-up data suggest improvements were maintained for the high risk group.


The data provide evidence that CPP is effective in improving outcomes for children who experienced four or more TSEs and had positive effects for their mothers as well.


Numerous studies show that exposure to childhood trauma and adversity has negative consequences for later physical and mental health, but few interventions have been specifically evaluated to determine their effectiveness for children who experienced multiple TSEs. The findings suggest that including the parent as an integral participant in the child's treatment may be particularly effective in the treatment of young children exposed to multiple risks.

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