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02/11/2013

Few treatments for traumatized kids: Pediatrics study

Child
A child sits buried in the snow waiting for his father to take his photo in Central Park in New York, Feb. 9. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters) 

Scientists and doctors are becoming increasingly aware that trauma in childhood can lead to a whole host of problems now and later in life.

A study out today in Pediatrics has adds a depressing new twist: we know almost nothing about how to prevent or relieve the symptoms children experience after a traumatic event.

That's a problem, since, as the study points out, two out of three children will experience trauma before they turn 18 -- everything from physical accidents to violent neighbourhoods to political strife.

The researchers systematically reviewed 6,647 abstracts, looking for studies that examined the effectiveness of different treatments and clinical interventions.

Only 21 trials and 1 cohort study met the criteria to be included in their review. And of those, only a few showed the benefits of particular treatments. School-based psychotherapy seems to be effective, while there was no evidence that drugs are particularly helpful. 

Overall, though, there just wasn't very much information.

"This is particularly discouraging given recent shootings at schools and other places where children have been victims. We simply don't have much of an evidence-base to be able to recommend best treatment practices," lead researcher Valerie Forman-Hoffman was quoted as saying in a press release.

Single traumatic events like school shootings are not the only culprit, however. The lifelong damage caused by early childhood adversity -- growing up around toxic stress, basically -- is a burgeoning research field. For those who want a basic, non-technical primer, the radio show This American Life had a recent episode that's worth a listen.

The authors called for further research and funding, unsurprisingly.

Kate Allen is the Toronto Star’s global science and technology reporter. Follow her on Twitter @katecallen

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