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Risky business: Trauma exposure and rate of posttraumatic stress disorder in African American children and adolescents


  • Kristin L. Hunt,

    Corresponding author
    1. Howard University
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Psychology, Howard University
    • Howard University, Department of Psychology, 525 Bryant St., N.W., Washington, DC 20059
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  • Patricia M. Martens,

    1. Kennedy Krieger Institute
    Current affiliation:
    1. The Family Center at Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore
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  • Harolyn M.E. Belcher

    1. Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University
    Current affiliation:
    1. The Family Center at Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, and Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
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  • This work was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U50/CCU325127. The authors gratefully acknowledge the children and families and the clinicians who treat them.


Demographics, parental risk factors, and experiencing interpersonal trauma (domestic violence, community violence, and physical and sexual abuse) are related to childhood posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Little is known about these factors and the risk of PTSD in African American children. This study examined associations between PTSD symptoms and gender, age, parent mental illness, parent substance abuse, and interpersonal trauma in African American children. Participants were 257 children and adolescents, ages 8–17 years (M = 11.7, SD = 2.5), who received outpatient mental health treatment. Being female and witnessing domestic violence was associated with more PTSD symptoms. Exposure to community violence and physical abuse increased the odds of clinically significant PTSD symptomatology by more than 2 times. The rate of PTSD (16%) was lower in the current study than in other same-age study populations (25%–40%). Risk factors and identification strategies for PTSD are discussed.

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