Understanding dissociation in relation to child trauma, mental health needs, and intensity of services in child welfare: A possible missing link

Cassandra L. Kisiel*, Elizabeth Torgersen, Gary M McClelland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


While there is limited research on the role of dissociation among children and adolescents, emerging evidence links child trauma history, dissociation, risk behaviors, and other negative outcomes among youth. This study examined dissociation in relation to mental health needs and intensity of services among a large sample of youth in Illinois child welfare, upon entry into care and in residential treatment settings. The Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS), a comprehensive, trauma-informed assessment strategy and information integration/planning tool was the primary measure. This study included two overall samples of child welfare-involved youth, ages 3–18: at entry into care (N = 27,737) and in residential treatment (N = 5,758). Findings indicated that rates of clinically significant dissociation were generally highest among younger youth (under age 14) and among youth with more cumulative and severe trauma. Dissociative youth were significantly more likely to exhibit several risk behaviors (e.g., fire setting and self-harm) and mental health symptoms (e.g., psychosis and somatization). Those youth with significant dissociation at entry into care were more likely to be psychiatrically hospitalized, placed into residential treatment, with greater likelihood of placement disruptions within the 2 years following entry into care. Implications of these findings are discussed in terms of the value of identifying and assessing dissociation and other trauma-related symptoms that may be less recognized but can be linked to high-risk behaviors and other negative outcomes within child welfare and across child-serving systems. Understanding dissociation may be an important component of training, service/treatment planning, and clinical care within child-serving systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-218
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Family Trauma, Child Custody and Child Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020


  • Child-serving systems
  • child trauma
  • child welfare
  • dissociation
  • mental health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Law
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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