Traumatic events have deleterious effects biologically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively. Events may include violence, neglect, and abuse and are best understood through a lifecourse perspective. Preventable and treatable, traumatic exposure promotes the development of trauma symptoms including avoidance, hyperarousal, increased fear, intrusive experiences, and aggression/violence. Trauma symptomology is thought to be an underlying cause of child maltreatment and intergenerational cycles of abuse
eglect. Traumatic symptoms may interfere with the ability to work, function, and care for young children and may accompany a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis.
Although these experiences are known to be harmful, little research has focused on experiences of mothers involved in the child welfare system with young children (< 5 years). Subsequently, this study explored maternal experiences of trauma whilst calculating one of the first PTSD estimates. Types of trauma exposure, age of exposure, and event details were explored alongside history of substance use, domestic violence, and mental illness. Trauma symptom type, severity, and frequency were assessed. Utilizing adult attachment as a partial mediator, relationships between trauma exposure, trauma symptoms, and parenting were examined.
Supported by a university-community collaboration within the Safe Babies Court Teams Program in Maricopa County, Arizona, this study is exploratory and cross-sectional. A convenience sample of child welfare involved mothers (N = 141) with young children were recruited who were new clinical intakes with open court dependencies. Data on child/adult traumatic events, trauma symptoms, adult attachment, and parenting were collected. Results indicated high rates of complex/chronic trauma, specifically domestic violence and physical/sexual abuse. Mothers experienced higher than average childhood adversity/emotional abuse with significant overlap between trauma exposure and reduced mental health. PTSD rates ranged from 35-39%. Adult attachment did not to mediate trauma on parenting behaviors however strong and significant direct effects were found. Insecure-disorganized and insecure-resistant were the most dominant attachment styles.
Overall, these findings indicate the complex lifecourse nature of trauma exposure and the need to pay special attention to mental health and domestic violence histories in child welfare involved mothers of young children. Implications for social work practice, policy, and research are presented and provide impetus for continued future work.