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February 2011: Trauma's Impact on Childhood Development

Young children exposed to 5 or more significant adversities in the first 3 years of childhood face a 76 percent likelihood of having one or more delays in their cognitive, language, or emotional development.

With help from families, providers, and the community, young children can demonstrate resilience when dealing with trauma.

Young children exposed to five or more significant adversities in the first 3 years of childhood face a 76 percent likelihood of having one or more delays in their cognitive, language, or emotional development. The likelihood of delay increases in nearly a straight line with the number of risks.1

However, research has shown that caregivers can buffer the impact of stress and promote better outcomes for children even under stressful times when the following Strengthening Families Protective Factors2 are present:

  • Parental resilience
  • Social connections
  • Knowledge of parenting and child development
  • Concrete support in times of need
  • Social and emotional competence of children
Graph displaying increase in number of children with developmental delays relative to a higher number of adversity risk factors

Text description of this chart is available on a separate page.

Data Source:

  1. Barth, R.P., Scarborough, A., Lloyd, E.C., Losby, J., Casanueva, C., & Mann, T. (2008). Developmental Status and Early Intervention Service Needs of Maltreated Children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. (Retrieved from: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/08/devneeds/report.pdf [PDF - 496 KB]Exit Disclaimer).
  2. Horton, C. (2003). Protective factors literature review. Early care and education programs and the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Center for the Study of Social Policy.

Graph was made available courtesy of the Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. For more graphs and images from the Center about the importance of early childhood, please visit http://developingchild.harvard.edu/library/multimedia/interactive_features/five-numbers/Exit Disclaimer.

Use these sample messages to share this early childhood trauma and resilience data point with your connections on Twitter and Facebook and via email.

Twitter: Children w/ 5+ significant adversities in 1st 3 yrs face 76% likelihood of 1+ development delays: http://bit.ly/ik4yas via @samhsagov #1in5

Facebook: Children exposed to 5+ significant adversities in the first 3 years face a 76% likelihood of having one or more delays in their development. Learn more about childhood trauma's impact and pass it on to observe National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day: http://bit.ly/ik4yas


If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs to talk, please call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Return to main page of SAMHSA.gov/Children | For more information, click here to email AwarenessDay2014@vancomm.com