Background: Traffic crashes are the leading health threat to children in the United States, resulting in nearly 1 million injuries annually. The psychological consequences of these injuries are primarily unknown. The aims of this study were to estimate the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in traffic-injured children and their parents and to identify risk factors for PTSD development.
Methods: A prospective cohort study of traffic-injured children between 3 and 18 years of age was conducted at a level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center. The children were enrolled as part of an ongoing surveillance system of traffic-related injuries. Presence and severity of PTSD were determined in the children and their parents through a validated diagnostic questionnaire 7 to 12 months after child injury.
Results: Twenty-five percent of the children and 15% of the parents suffered diagnostic PTSD, but only 46% of the parents of affected children sought help of any form (including from friends) for their child and only 20% of affected parents sought help for themselves. Child PTSD was associated with older child age and parent PTSD. Parent PTSD was associated with younger child age, child PTSD, and parent witnessing the event. Injury severity was not predictive of PTSD.
Conclusions: PTSD in children and their parents is a common, yet overlooked, consequence of pediatric traffic-related injury with prevalence rates similar to those found in children exposed to violence. Physicians managing the pediatric trauma patient, regardless of injury severity or whether the injury was intentional, should screen for PTSD and refer for treatment where appropriate.