Behavioral problems and service utilization in children with chronic illnesses referred for trauma-related mental health services

Holly C. Wilcox, Mark Rains, Harolyn Belcher, Nancy Kassam-Adams, Anne Kazak, Robert Lee, Ernestine C. Briggs, Tracy Bethel, Carrie Purbeck Trunzo, Lawrence Wissow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objective: Given its prevalence and impact on health and well-being, children's exposure to traumatic experiences is of growing importance to pediatricians and other medical providers. Little is known, however, about the traumatic experiences profiles, trauma-related sequelae, and service use patterns of youth with chronic or recurrent medical problems/disabilities. This study aimed to fill this research gap. Method: Participants were children less than 18 years of age who were referred for assessment and/or treatment services at one of the 56 National Child Traumatic Stress Network centers from 2004 to 2010 across the United States and had experienced at least one of 13 types of traumatic experience(s) (n = 9885; mean = 11 years, SD = 4.3; 52.3% girls). Generalized linear mixed models were used to examine associations among types of trauma, emotional and behavioral problems, and rates of service utilization adjusting for treatment center-level random effects, demographic characteristics, and the total number of types of trauma exposures. Results: Among children seeking treatment for traumatic stress, those with comorbid medical problems/disabilities had different demographic characteristics, different types of trauma exposure, and more service utilization in multiple sectors before trauma treatment entry than those without comorbid medical problems/disabilities. Those without comorbid medical problems/disabilities had higher levels of some types of traumatic exposures, associated symptoms, and higher levels of behavioral problems at home, school, or day care. Those with medical disorders/disabilities were at 30% to 40% higher odds of meeting clinical criteria for hyperarousal and re-experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, used more medical and mental health services for trauma, and had more emotional and behavioral concerns. Conclusion: Given that pediatricians are more likely to see children with medical disabilities and concerns than those without, there is an opportunity to ask directly about traumatic exposures and associated symptoms and provide support and interventions to promote resilience. Integrating trauma screening and mental health services into medical care could be especially beneficial for children with chronic medical conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-70
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Child traumatic stress
  • Children with disabilities
  • National child traumatic stress network
  • Post-traumatic
  • Stress disorders
  • Traumatic childhood experiences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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