To ask or not to ask children about trauma, that’s the question

Actually, I don’t think it’s the question. My impression from the research literature, clinicians’ comments, and my own experience is that it is not harmful when we discuss the topic in a respectful, open-minded way. On the contrary, I think it’s very important to ask children about traumatic exposure and posttraumatic stress reactions. But we should prove it. And if I turn out to be wrong, we should know as well.

So for the researchers between you, here is my suggestion. Let’s systematically include the 12 item Reactions to Research Participation Questionnaire (RRPQ-C and RRPQ-P) in our measures. It will inform you about how children experience your study, which has a number of advantages. When you are still in a pilot phase, it may help you to evaluate the informed consent and other study procedures from both a child’s and a parent’s perspective (by the way, this measure can be used with a broad range of topics, not only trauma). It can also assist you when you are evaluating a completed study. And it can help us build a good evidence base to inform Institutional Review Boards and other Ethics committees. That will help avoiding future decisions based on gut feelings about what is harmful and what not. What do you think?

The questionnaire is very easy to use and doesn’t require any specialist training. It has acceptable psychometric characteristics, and covers four domains:

  1. the child’s or parent’s positive appraisals of research participation,
  2. his/her negative appraisals of research participation,
  3. assessment of informed consent and trust in the research team, and
  4. understanding of his/her rights as a research participant.

Download the RRPQ-C and RRPQ-P here (in English). For Dutch and Flemish researchers, a Dutch version of the questionnaire is now available as well: de Vragenlijsten Onderzoeksdeelname voor Kinderen en Ouders (VOD-K en VOD-O). Download them here.

Kassam-Adams, N., & Newman, E. (2002). The reactions to research participation questionnaires for children and for parents (RRPQ-C and RRPQ-P) General Hospital Psychiatry, 24 (5), 336-342 DOI: 10.1016/S0163-8343(02)00200-1

Kassam-Adams, N., & Newman, E. (2005). Child and parent reactions to participation in clinical research General Hospital Psychiatry, 27 (1), 29-35 DOI: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2004.08.007

One thought on “To ask or not to ask children about trauma, that’s the question

  1. These are good questions to ask. Children experience trauma differently that adults do, and children can be traumatized by events that don’t faze an adult, and by things that adults don’t even consider. Sensitivity and proper questioning is extremely important when dealing with children.

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