Road traffic accidents (RTA) and burns are frequent events in children. Although many children recover spontaneously, a considerable number develop long-term psychological sequelae. Evidence on early psychological interventions to prevent such long-term problems is still scarce for school-age children and completely lacking for pre-school children.
To evaluate the efficacy of an early two-session cognitive-behavioral intervention in 108 children ages 2-16 after RTAs and burns.
Children assessed at risk for the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were randomly assigned to either a control group offered treatment as usual or an intervention group. Primary outcomes were PTSD, behavioral problems, and depression symptoms. Baseline and blinded 3- and 6-month follow-up assessments were conducted.
In pre-school children, no intervention effects were found. School-age children in the intervention group exhibited significantly fewer internalizing problems at 3-month follow-up relative to controls and a borderline significant time-by-group effect for PTSD intrusion symptoms was found (p=0.06).
This is the first study examining the efficacy of an indicated, early psychological intervention among both school-age and pre-school-age children. Because the intervention was ineffective for young children, no evidence-based practice can currently be suggested. Given that parents of pre-school children perceived the intervention as helpful, brief counseling of parents in terms of psychoeducation and training in coping skills still should be provided by clinicians, despite the current lack of evidence. To prevent trauma-related disorders in school-age children, the intervention might be used in a step-wise manner, where only children at risk for long-term psychological maladjustment are provided with psychological support.