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New Guide Helps Young People Understand Complex Trauma

A pensive young man.

Homeless youth often carry the burden of multiple traumatic experiences that occurred in childhood and while living on the street. In one study, approximately three out of every four homeless youth reported two or more types of childhood maltreatment and approximately one in four reported two or more types of street-based victimization. Runaway and homeless youth service providers tailor their services for this high-need population,  knowing that most of their clients live with complex trauma.

A recently published guide, “What is complex trauma? A resource guide for youth and those who care about them,” (PDF, 1.1 MB) helps staff begin a dialogue with youth about how their adverse experiences affect their mental health. Written by ten authors from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), the guide is divided into five sections. 

While the guide uses language that speaks to youth on their level, some pages are text-heavy and may be difficult for those with literacy challenges. Staff may want to read sections of the guide aloud to make the content more accessible for young people.

Here are some highlights from the initial three sections of the guide:

Part I. What is Complex Trauma? In addition to explaining how singular traumatic experiences affect young people differently than multiple, chronic adverse experiences, the authors also include a helpful three-panel graphic to illustrate how experiences shape young people’s world views.

Part II. How Complex Trauma Can Impact Me The authors invite youth to think about the connections between their past experiences and their current lives through two table-based activities. One table lists life difficulties categorized into “thoughts,” “beliefs,” “feelings,” and “body messages,” and the other is a worksheet for writing down the effects of complex trauma that youth observe in their daily lives.

Part III. Ways Youth Cope Youth cope with traumatic experiences in a variety of ways and some of these habits or reactions can negatively impact their well-being, the authors write. Through two activities, the authors ask youth to identify their coping strategies and evaluate whether they help or harm them.

Check out the NCTSN’s website’s section on complex trauma.

More on Complex Trauma

#NCFYtalk Recap: Complex Trauma and Homeless Youth

Q&A: Trauma ‘Types’ Versus ‘Numbers:’ Which Has the Bigger Impact on Homeless Youth?

Researchers Explore How Different Types of Trauma Affect Homeless Youths’ Mental Health

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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