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Trauma-Informed Children’s Ministry: a Qualitative Descriptive Study

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Over half of American children will experience at least one traumatic event, and nearly one in six will experience four or more events. These traumatic events affect children’s physical and mental health throughout their lives. Consequently, organizations which serve children, including local religious congregations, are urged to adopt the principles of trauma-informed care. The purpose of this study was to describe specific ways in which trauma-informed principles are applied by church children’s ministries. We gathered interview, focus group, and observational data from nine different children’s ministries that were previously identified as being exceptionally inclusive and supportive. Interview participants included nine children’s pastors, 17 children’s ministry volunteers, and 38 individuals across 14 families. Focus group participants included 20 children ages 7 to 13. Data were analyzed using qualitative descriptive methodology using both a deductive and inductive approach. Drawing from prior literature, we deductively categorized the values (preparation, awareness, collaboration, and transparency) and goals (that children feel safe, regulated, connected, and valued) of trauma-informed children’s ministries. Results. Results inductively identify and describe specific ways in which each of these values and goals were applied in the children’s ministry context. Our results reveal that churches have the potential to be places of healing for children who have experienced trauma. Moreover, although many of these trauma-informed practices in a children’s ministry context are similar to a school context, there are important differences that make children’s church a unique context for care. We highlight the implications for children’s ministries.

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  1. The children’s pastor at the megachurch initially selected three sibling sets to participate in the child focus group. Because two of the sibling sets were ultimately unavailable on the weekend of the site visit, we interviewed the remaining sibling set with their parent using the protocols for a family interview.

  2. Children and volunteers were informed that this expectation of confidentiality did not extend to state-manded reportable events (e.g., child abuse), suicidality, or threats of violence.


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This research was supported with funding with a Trauma Care and Recovery Grant from the Center for the Study of Human Behavior at California Baptist University. The authors are grateful for the support of the churches and families who participated in this research.

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Correspondence to Robert G. Crosby III.

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Crosby, R.G., Smith, E.I., Gage, J. et al. Trauma-Informed Children’s Ministry: a Qualitative Descriptive Study. Journ Child Adol Trauma 14, 493–505 (2021).

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