The Malta Independent 21 March 2023, Tuesday
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Trauma in children, the mother of all evil

Andrew Azzopardi Thursday, 2 February 2023, 07:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

We have been throwing solutions left, right and centre as we witness one tragedy after another in this country. The blaming game is at its best. As always happens when there is a spike in criminality (actual or perceived) this instigates moral panic. Our reaction is not directed in trying to understand what is happening in our communities but we go into a frenzy and we start planting doubts in one institution after another as we try to untangle the chaos. The Courts, the Police, the educational system, the Church, the inflection in our morality are all tossed about as reasons for this professed profligacy. Maybe some of it is true. The problem is that this verbal diarrhoea leaves us with no tangibles. In fact, it soon quietens down until we hear of the next shocking accident and we are at it again.


From where I stand I believe the problem is way more deep-rooted than simply putting pressure on the Courts or the police force as this goes nowhere in settling this state of affairs. Simply plonking people in prison and ‘throwing away the key’ is another absurdity, poignant and short-sighted as they come. The recent alleged cases of femicide, attempted murders, people being deliberately run over, gangs roaming the streets in our neighbourhoods and what have become regular brawls in our community need a more thorough analysis and scrutiny.

One angle we need to navigate around when it comes to peoples’ negative behaviour can be fathomed in unresolved childhood traumas. The root of most of these evils is traceable to a lack of positive experiences during ‘our’ upbringing.

In my, and a number of stakeholders’ opinion, this issue of ‘trauma’ in social policy has not being given the importance it deserves. It is useless trying to heal behaviour unless we know where it is coming from. Naturally not all people who are, or have gone through traumatic experiences in childhood are unable to get through life. Obviously engaging with the right type of therapy, support and help goes a long way in this healing process.

The roots of trauma and why it is allowed to fester are varied.

In a discussion document I wrote following consultation with psychologists, family therapists, social operators, youth workers, criminologists, psychotherapists, psychiatric nurses, lawyers, educators, counsellors, social workers and other interested parties I identified at least 100 potential traumas that can leave a lasting effect on children as they transition through life if they are not dealt with expediently. To mention a few; refugee children, children who witness violence at home, adopted and fostered children, children who are bullied or abused sexually, children in care, children affected by poverty, children who have to visit their parents in a prison setting or give witness in Court, children who experience health situations in one way or another, children who are unable to play or come from different ethnic communities or religions, children who contemplate suicide and/or self-harm or who witness adults in these circumstances, children who live in contexts where mental health is ripe - are profound issues that can lead to unresolved trauma.

This calls for urgent action the first being that of convincing leaders in the social sector that this is a very serious situation we are in.

Quoting from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (USA) website;

‘ACEs [Adverse Childhood Experiences] are common. About 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported they had experienced at least one type of ACE before age 18, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.’ The Centre continues to state that ‘The economic and social costs to families, communities, and society totals hundreds of billions of dollars each year.’ (

This is not a lost cause but we need to take corrective action if we want to see light at the end of the tunnel.

In this sense I am recommending that we set up a task force to look into this matter that will include academics, social operators, professionals, government and policy makers.  It is imperative we have a national study to help us understand the extent of the problem within the general population. We also need to have trauma informed specialists and also trauma informed specialised training embedded in the curriculum of caring professions and with this we should include ongoing professional development. We need to reconstitute and strengthen the multi-disciplinary teams in our schools, work with prison inmates more intensely and use non-formal education as another loop in the process of healing. This to compliment access to psychotherapy, family therapy, psychological services and counselling. Instead of simply judging people or contemplating how we are going to bury the people who act criminally we need to address the problem at its core.

If we are not going to deal with this matter convincingly and expediently we are guaranteed more victims like Paulina, Bernice, Rita, Sion, Pelin unfortunately. 


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