The History of the NCTSN

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network


Established by the US Congress in 2000 as part of the Children’s Health Act, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) has grown from a collaborative Network of 17 to over 150 funded and Affiliate NCTSN centers located nationwide in university, hospital, and diverse community-based organizations, with thousands of national and local partners. Named in honor of Donald J. Cohen, a pioneer in children’s mental health, the NCTSN mission is to raise the standard of care and improve access to services for traumatized children, their families, and communities. Funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and coordinated by the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress (NCCTS), Network members and partners work together within and across diverse settings, including a wide variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations. The Network offers training, support, and resources to providers who work with children and families exposed to a wide range of traumatic experiences, including physical and sexual abuse; domestic, school, and community violence; natural disasters,  terrorism, or military family challenges; and life-threatening injury and illness.

The Network Beyond the Network

NCTSN partnerships involve a dynamic range of activities with international, national, tribal, regional, state, county, city, and local community organizations in the public and private sectors. This “Network beyond the Network” is a critical component of the NCTSN mission and effectively extends trauma-informed practices and resources to all types of child-serving systems. When the US Congress launched the NCTSN, it established a national infrastructure that supports the scientific growth and dissemination of child trauma knowledge and expertise. This infrastructure is the basis for the transformation and improvement of all child-serving systems of care, accelerating the transfer of scientific knowledge to service delivery.

According to the most recent (2009) annual reports of the 50 then-funded NCTSN centers, NCTSN members reported a wide variety of partners, including private businesses, community-based organizations, advocacy groups, child welfare and other social services agencies, education partners, first responders, foundations, government agencies, professional associations, primary healthcare groups, juvenile justice agencies, child welfare programs, mental health organizations, academic institutions, and more.  With an average of 170 partners per center (with some centers reporting over 2100 each) and well over 8300 partners collectively, the NCTSN extends the reach of its mission well beyond its grantee base, building upon its core federal funding, and working to leverage all available resources. To view the report, click here

This collaborative model also has made it possible for formerly-funded NCTSN members to be active Affiliate members of the NCTSN and to continue to contribute to the national mission, as well as to the ongoing work in their states and local communities. Through the active Affiliate program, the investment that the nation has made in the NCTSN program continues to reap cost-effective benefits for child trauma centers and for those they serve.


Raising the Standard of Care

Since its inception, the NCTSN has contributed to major advances in caring for children with traumatic stress. Over 40 evidence-based treatments and promising practices have been developed and provided to families through the NCTSN’s work. The NCTSN has developed a Core Curriculum on Childhood Trauma that provides a foundation in child trauma concepts and issues. While supporting child trauma work that occurs every day in child-serving systems, the NCTSN members and partners also mobilize during national crises to offer child trauma resources where they are most needed. 

The NCTSN has trained hundreds of thousands of professionals who work with children and families involved with foster care, school mental health, refugee services, domestic violence, disaster services, and military families, among others. Between 2002 and 2009, the NCTSN members reported serving over 320,000 children through direct clinical services, and many more through outreach efforts, community educational programs, and provider training and consultation. The NCTSN Learning Center offers online courses and webinars, reaching more than 42,000 participants during the last 5 years with a wide variety of evidence-based, trauma-informed information about child trauma. Hundreds of child trauma resources are available online through the NCTSN website and related NCTSN Knowledge Bank.

Accountability and Effectiveness

The NCTSN is committed to high quality evaluation and accountability and has tracked the program’s effectiveness through its core data set system and other evaluation efforts. Detailed information and trauma histories have been collected on more than 14,000 children and adolescents with results showing that more than 40% have experienced four or more types of traumatic events in their young lives. To see the report, click here. The majority already are showing impairments in one or more areas of life (such as academic problems, emotional distress, or behavioral problems at home or in the community), and many have been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other disorders. Fortunately, the majority of children show significant improvement in functioning after treatment. Without treatment, many would continue to experience traumatic stress and engage in behaviors that undermine healthy development. With treatment and support, many will recover and return to normal activities and development.


The NCTSN was authorized by the US Congress in 2000 as part of the Children’s Health Act and has grown from 17 to over 150 participating centers, in partnership with thousands of organizations throughout the country. The broad mission of the NCTSN includes treatment, intervention development, training, data analysis, program evaluation, policy analysis, systems change, and the integration of trauma-informed and evidence-based practices in all child-serving systems.  The strong Congressional support and the commitment and dedication of all those involved in this important initiative are raising the standard of care and helping hundreds of thousands of children, families, and providers involved in this work.