When events such as parental incarceration, family separation, abuse or neglect, the illness or death of a parent or sibling, or natural disasters occur early in life, they weigh on children both emotionally and physically. With intense and prolonged exposure to toxic stress, developing brains can actually be rewired and trigger constant stress responses (fight, flight or freeze).
Not all babies and toddlers experience traumatic stress after a traumatic event. For those who do, trauma can get under the skin, impacting health and well-being over a lifetime.
Why It Matters
For babies, early trauma can impact lifelong learning, mental and physical health, and development. That’s why it's critical to act early–because every child deserves the chance to grow up with safety and security.
Caregivers and early childhood professionals can play a vital role in helping restore and maintain emotional safety, serving as a buffer against some of the long-term impacts.
By the Numbers
Research shows traumatic stress hurts babies
A childhood shaped by trauma is associated with 8 of the 10 leading causes of death in the US, and has been estimated to shorten one’s life by as much as 19 years.
A single adverse childhood experience can rewire a baby’s brain negatively. Sadly, 20.7 percent of infants and toddlers will have one significant adverse experience.
One of the most traumatic experiences a baby can have is separation from a primary caregiver.
Sources: ZERO TO THREE. State of Babies Yearbook: 2022. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019, July 11). Identifying, preventing, and treating childhood trauma [Congressional testimony].
I am astounded every day at how effective this trauma-informed approach is. When I began as a Florida Circuit Judge more than 30 years ago, I didn’t know the impact Judges and Court Teams could have on the trajectory of families if only we understood and recognized that trauma, child development, and outcomes are inextricably linked. Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to apply it and see infants, toddlers and families thrive.”
Judge Tepper, 6th Judicial District, Florida
As leaders in infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH), ZERO TO THREE has helped make huge strides in advancing the understanding of childhood trauma.
We’ve brought technical assistance and resources to nearly half the states, enhancing their ability to prevent and treat trauma in babies. Our transformational HealthySteps program places early childhood development and behavioral health specialists in pediatric visits, providing families and providers the tools to address traumatic stress quickly and effectively. Our life-changing Safe Babies Court Team is a program specifically designed to support families involved in the child welfare system.
Contribute now to help us reach our goal of serving at least 1 million children and families through Healthy Steps by 2032.
When families thrive, babies thrive.
See how we provide support to strengthen families who have experienced extreme hardships or traumatic events.