Traumatised children may be at risk for delinquency, decade-old UWI research shows
A decade ago, at the Caribbean Child Research Conference, experts from the University of the West Indies, provided research findings which showed that many Jamaican children who have witnessed incidences of violence, may be experiencing dangerous post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is undiagnosed.
One body of research by Charlene A. Coore, titled Life-events and Post-traumatic Stress in a Sample of Inner-City Jamaican Children, found that the presence of some symptoms can lead to maladaptive coping styles, poor academic functioning, trouble in interpersonal relationships and other psychiatric problems such as depression.
"Many Jamaican children are exposed to powerful stressors in their daily lives. Not only do they have to manoeuvre through the normal developmental tasks associated with school, family life and peer relationships, but they may also have to confront issues related to natural disasters, poverty, violence and abuse. These traumatic events can have profound effects on development and, in many cases, can lead to a child experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder," the report noted.
"Early detection and intervention by parents, teachers and child care professionals can help prevent some of these children from becoming at risk for delinquency, depression and other negative outcomes," it added.
The research also highlighed the need to strengthen families and communities, as creating safer environments and more loving homes will help decrease the development and maintenance of some of these symptoms. It said studies done with Jamaican children have consistently reported increases in internalising, externalising and academic problems associated with exposure to various negative life-events.
"One groundbreaking study on the risk factors for aggression in primary school-aged boys indicated that exposure to violence was one of the strongest predictors of aggressive behaviour. This is of particular concern in Jamaican society where a high percentage of violent crimes are committed by youth under the age of 17," the report said.
"This seeming 'desensitisation' to violence could be symptomatic of the dissociation and emotional numbing linked to post-traumatic stress. Additionally, exposure to negative life-events has been associated with inappropriate emotional regulation and an increase in externalising behaviour.
The report said a better understanding of the types of events that affect Jamaican children is an important step in learning more about the experience of young people in the island.
"In addition, an assessment of the incidence and severity of PTSD in a non-clinical sample can shed light on unidentified children who may be reacting to a traumatic event," it said.