Report on Child Trauma Conference

2014. február 28., péntek

The Reformed Church in Hungary hosted a conference on 12-14 February about childhood trauma —what is it, what are its effects on children and teenagers, and how to work with traumatized children.  The keynote speaker was Eamon Anderson, an American social worker who works with American Indian tribes in Montana, and she works with the University of Montana with research in the relatively new field of childhood trauma — the understanding and treatment of children who have undergone traumatic events.  This same conference was also held in Tulcea, Romania, for people who work in orphanages in eastern Romania.  This conference was made possible by a generous grant from the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA).  Eamon had given a similar conference in Russia in March 2013, which was well received, and Russia wants her to return to give a follow-up conference in the future.

Trauma is defined as an experience of a real or perceived threat to life or safety or the life or safety of a loved one and this experience causes an overwhelming sense of terror, horror, helplessness and fear that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope.  Childhood trauma results from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, being witness to domestic violence, from neglect or being abandoned by parents, prostitution or human trafficking, traumatic loss of a loved one, bullying, or from serious accidents or illness.  We learned that a person who experiences more than three serious traumatic events during childhood has a much higher likelihood of experiencing depression, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol addiction, or other health risks, resulting in a life expectancy, on average, 20 years shorter than those who have not experienced much trauma.  Childhood trauma also affects the children’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and moral development, causing delays and dysfunctional thinking and behavior.  Effective treatment helps a child to develop resiliency, which is that internal strength with which a person uses to overcome hardship.

Eamon stressed that teamwork is required, along with being culturally sensitive to the situations in which these children live so that consistency of effective methods are used.  Above all, children need to feel safe wherever they are, and that the children need to know that adults care about them in an appropriate manner.  Healthy relationships are key to good results in these children.  She also taught us that the time to intervene in a child’s behavior is not when the child is acting out or explodes, but to intervene when the adult recognizes that the child is beginning to display symptoms of unease.  Children are taught how to recognize when he or she is beginning to escalate and the methods a child can use to calm himself.  Adults learn techniques in how to deal with children and how to build healthy relationships with them.  Eamon also talked about the importance of adults taking care of themselves so that they have the emotional resources to appropriately respond to children. 

Last of all, Eamon talked about the role of historical trauma, which can be viewed as multigenerational trauma.  Historical trauma is the collective emotional and psychological injury over the life span and across generations, resulting from a history that occurs as a result of genocide and other significant abuses.  Unresolved grief, experiences of being removed from homes and/or villages, being denied both a group’s language and culture, being forced to attend boarding or segregated schools, being forced to assimilate into a different culture occur.  The people develop a sense of despair, powerlessness, and hopelessness, which are seen in the high rates of poverty, alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, and other health issues.  Both American Indians and European Roma have been victims of historical trauma.  If the reader is interested in reading more about historical trauma, this link is very interesting, written from a human perspective, of what historical trauma looks like from a Native American/American Indian perspective.

In addition to Eamon, four speakers from Eduvital, a health education society that connects biology with the social sciences and then teaches about various topics, gave presentations  on Epigenetics (how the environment and human interaction affect genetics, by András Falus), Bullying among Children (by Dóra Pozsvai),  Behavior Addictions in Children (by Beatrix Koronczai), and Eating Disorders (by Márta Varga).  Small group workshops were held in which participants could share experiences and ask questions in response to these topics.

People’s responses to the conference were very positive.  New knowledge was gained, much practical information was given, and very good sharing amongst the attendees will certainly lead to better networking for improvement of techniques which will only benefit the children with whom we all work.

Sixty people attended the conference held in Berekfürdö.  People came from Hungary, Ukraine, and Romania.  Among these people were social workers, psychologists, foster parents, staff from orphanages and children’s home, refugee mission, and Roma mission.

I would like to give heartfelt thanksgivings to Eamon Anderson and the Eduvital presenters, to Eszter Dani, Petra Dienes, Szabina Sztojka, Zsofia Kochsis, and Burkhard Paetzold  and Ellen Smith (PCUSA) for the work of organizing, hosting, translation, and speaking at this conference, and for the work on the grant application from the PCUSA so that this conference could happen. We hope that this conference will be the beginning of a new work in this part of the world regarding the protection of and the healing of children who have experienced trauma.



Carolyn Otterness


Carolyn and Richard Otterness – Reformed Church in America

In partnership with the Hungarian Reformed Church, RCA mission personnel Richard and Carolyn Otterness mentor and serve as consultants to volunteer workers of several nationalities who minister with Roma in Hungary and in Hungarian-speaking areas of neighbouring countries. They support and collaborate with other ecumenical Christians to help Roma develop their own congregations and build bridges to existing congregations, access health care and education, and find employment or start small businesses.

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Our church through American eyes

We encourage you to read our  former GM intern Kearstin Bailey's blog about her time, spent in Hungary.