The impact of intimate partner violence and additional traumatic events on trauma symptoms and PTSD in preschool-aged children


Children exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) are at increased risk for developing traumatic stress symptoms and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, children who witness IPV are often exposed to additional traumatic events. Previous research has indicated that approximately one third of children experience 2 or more direct victimizations each year, and that exposure to one type of victimization places children at risk for exposure to additional types of victimization. Yet little is known about the impact of these additional traumas on children's functioning. For a sample of 120 preschool children (age 4-6 years) exposed to IPV in the past 2 years, 38% were exposed to additional traumatic events, including sexual assaults by family members, physical assaults, serious accidents, and/or life-threatening illnesses. Those exposed to both IPV and additional traumatic events had higher rates of PTSD diagnoses, traumatic stress symptoms (d = 0.96), and internalizing (d = 0.86) and externalizing behavior (d = 0.47) problems, than those exposed to IPV alone. We also compared DSM-IV diagnostic criteria to proposed criteria for evaluating traumatic stress in preschool-aged children. Results revealed the importance of conducting a complete assessment of traumatic events prior to treating children exposed to IPV. © 2012 International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Publication Title

Journal of Traumatic Stress