Child trauma exposure and subsequent emotional functioning in El Salvador

Carly Johnco*, Alison Salloum, Nicole M. McBride, Sandra Cepeda, Daniel Guttfreund, Juan Carlos Novoa, Eric A. Storch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


This study examined the incidence of exposure to potentially traumatic life events and subsequent emotional functioning in Salvadorian children. Participants were 269 parents of youth aged 4-17 who completed measures of child trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, emotional functioning, peer functioning, impairment, need for treatment, treatment preferences, and barriers to accessing treatment. More than half of Salvadorian children (57%) had been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event, one third (32%) had been exposed to ≥2, one fifth (19%) had exposure to ≥3, and 10.4% to ≥4 traumatic events. Despite this, less than 4% of children who experienced a trauma fulfilled PTSD criteria, with 11-19% meeting partial PTSD criteria. Greater trauma exposure was associated with higher PTSD symptom severity and impairment, but not with emotional and peer functioning. Higher frequency of trauma exposure was associated with greater perceived need for treatment. Parents preferred to handle their child's emotional problems themselves or seek help from nonpharmacological mental health services. Parents reported low levels of barriers to accessing treatment, with the greatest barriers relating to cost and accessibility. Overall, youth trauma exposure was high, although did not necessarily correlate with poor emotional functioning. If children displayed emotional distress, parents were motivated to seek help, and reported preferences to handle the problem themselves or seek appropriate mental health treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19–28
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Early online date13 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • trauma
  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • child
  • El Salvador
  • treatment


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