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Social Problem-Solving Skills are Protective for Youth Exposed to Trauma


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

​​​​​Childhood trauma changes the way that children’s brains function, and many traumatized kids end up with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researching and developing methods ​to ​provide the best care for these kids is the role of the Child and Family Translational Research Center at Boys Town. The research that we do directly informs our staff, and other organizations, who are responsible for caring for kids who have experienced trauma.

​A major challenge to providing effective therapies is that the type and th​e severity of trauma experienced affect young brains differently [1]. Boys Town has developed a screening instrument to identify possible symptoms youth may have related to past trauma [2] and uses a trauma-informed care model to avoid further traumatization. Boys Town care providers use the questionnaire to determine the suppo​rts and services youth need to help children heal. However, more research is always needed to support existing practices and to help us to continually improve how we take care of at-risk kids.

In a recent publication, Patrick Tyler, Ph.D., Director of Research Translation, and his colleagues evaluated outcomes for 667 youth, ages 10–18 years old, who received social skills training as part of our trauma informed care model. For this study, the researchers were also focused on kids with more severe trauma and PTSD. The social training was broken down into 3 focus categories: self-advocacy, emotional regulation, and problem solving. The youth in this study were receiving group home services in the Boys Town Family Home Program, which involves direct-care staff residing with them in a family-type setting [3]. The social skills training is also an integral part of their treatment to help them manage their emotions and develop skills for healthy interactions in the home and after they leave. Duration of treatment was a significant factor, with kids who were in treatment longer showing more improvement that those with shorter stays.

Social skills training for the children was conducted by following established practices at Boys Town. The specific social skills training varied for each child based on the assessment of their needs by their care providers. The researchers were looking for improvements in behavioral incidents, self-injury, conduct, and emotional problems.

From the 3 categories of social skills t​raining that were examined, the authors noted that all types helped to some degree with behavioral problems. However, problem-solving training had the biggest effect on both behavioral incidents and emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression. This suggests that prioritizing problem-solving skills is an approach that could help a large proportion of traumatized kids. It also offers a narrowed set of skills that can be supp​orted by educators or other caregivers who could receive focused training in this area. Having this support to maintain these skills after a child leaves clinical or residential care may be the best way to help these kids stay healthy.

You can read more about this study, currently in press, in the journal, Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy [3].


  1. Blair K.S., Aloi J., Crum K., et. al. (2019) Association of Different Types of Childhood Maltreatment With Emotional Responding and Response Control Among Youths. 2(5). JAMA Netw Open.
  2. Tyler, P.M., Mason, W.A., Chmelka, M.B., et. al. (2019) Psycho​metrics of a Brief Trauma Symptom Screen for Youth in residential care Journal of Traumatic Stress. doi: 10.1002/jts.22442.
  3. Tyler, P.M., Aitken, A.A., Ringle, J.L., et. al. (2020) Evaluating Social Skills Training for Youth with Trauma Symptoms in Residential Programs. (In Press). Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy.

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