By Benjamin E. Saunders, PhD and Zachary W. Adams, PhD

The epidemiology of traumatic experiences in childhood is a key context for research, clinical treatment, program management, and policy development. This article discusses the conceptual, methodological, and programmatic challenges in precisely answering even relatively simple questions concerning the basic prevalence and incidence of important trauma types among American youth. Findings from studies using nationally representative samples and directly interviewing youth about their trauma histories are reviewed, and lifetime prevalence rates for various types of traumatic experience presented. Clinical application of this information and future directions are discussed.

Understanding the epidemiology of traumatic experiences in childhood is critical to conducting meaningful trauma research, developing effective trauma services and service delivery systems, and efficiently allocating resources for both activities. Without an understanding of the basic topography of these events in the lives of youth, there is a danger of over focusing on extraordinary, emotionally gripping, or highly visible types of events and overlooking less obvious or dramatic, but perhaps highly significant forms of trauma…

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