Sadly, another spate of mass shootings in the US has again triggered demands for better gun laws and mental health services, with the unanswered questions of “why?” being asked through the immediate and wider community. As someone who has worked in the US, I found that there was no greater conversation stopper than those centered around gun control.

Rather than asking why and trying to find a motive, perhaps what we should be doing is looking at what the root cause of this behavior is. How do innocent babies grow up to be killers? For those of you familiar with the impact of trauma on children, then you will not be surprised at a recent finding published in the Los Angeles Times. Two researchers have studied the background of every mass shooter in the US since the 1960s, and found that “in the vast majority of mass shooters in the study experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age”(Paterson & Delaney, 2019).

The science behind this is irrefutable: if a child experiences something that causes toxic stress, damage to the structure and function of the brain will occur. How, and if they heal, depends on whether the child is given resilience from adult who is able to do so (parent, caregiver, front line worker, teacher, coach) as well as the health of the social and physical environment in which they live.

Understanding the science behind the impact of trauma, and more importantly, how to build ‘trauma informed’ practises into the way we interact with children and young people, should be a core competency for all workers in our sector.

Are you confident that each staff member in your organisation is able to apply a trauma lense to the work that they do? If not, I urge you to take advantage of LEAD’s upcoming “Trauma Informed Practice” Workshop on 17 September (and priced at only $50 per person), and the culturally designed “Trauma Informed Practice for Aboriginal Workers” to be held on 20 November 2019.

A ‘trauma informed’ team has the potential to not only address the immediate needs of vulnerable children, but can also help to begin the journey of healing. I hope that LEAD’s Professional Development events can contribute to the capacity of your team to make a positive difference and to help your clients to achieve their outcomes.


Kerry Palejs