The assessment of developmental trauma in children and adolescents: A systematic review

Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2017 Apr;22(2):260-287. doi: 10.1177/1359104516631607. Epub 2016 Mar 2.


Background: The assessment of children and young people with history of complex developmental trauma presents a significant challenge to services. Traditional diagnostic categories such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are argued to be of limited value, and while the proposed 'Developmental Trauma Disorder' definition attempts to address this debate, associated assessment tools have yet to be developed. This review builds on a previous review of assessment measures, undertaken in 2005.

Aim: To identify trauma assessment tools developed or evaluated since 2004 and determine which are developmentally appropriate for children or adolescents with histories of complex trauma.

Method: A systematic search of electronic databases was conducted with explicit inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Results: A total of 35 papers were identified evaluating 29 measures assessing general functioning and mental health ( N = 10), PTSD ( N = 7) and trauma symptomatology outside, or in addition to, PTSD ( N = 11). Studies were evaluated on sample quality, trauma/adversity type, as well as demographic and psychometric data. Distinction was made between measures validated for children (0-12 years) and adolescents (12-18 years).

Conclusion: Few instruments could be recommended for immediate use as many required further validation. The Assessment Checklist questionnaires, designed with a developmental and attachment focus, were the most promising tools.

Keywords: Developmental trauma; adolescent; assessment; child; complex trauma; questionnaire.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development*
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Psychological Trauma / diagnosis*