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Toxic stress can wreak havoc on children
WRITTEN BY MATT YELL
What does your parents’ divorce have to do with your risk for heart disease? If one of your parents had a drinking problem when you were growing up, are you more likely to suffer from depression as an adult?
Our community needs to know about ACEs!
“ACEs” stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences; extremely stressful or traumatic events that can happen to a child growing up. Some experiences are so stressful that they can alter brain development, as well as the immune system, increasing the risk of lifelong health and social problems in adulthood. The term comes from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.
Researchers looked at how the number of adversities a person/child experienced (ACEs) related to a wide array of serious health and social problems. They saw that the more ACEs someone had, the greater their risk for poor outcomes compared to someone with no ACEs. This landmark research shed new light on the root cause of everything from stroke and liver disease, to substance abuse and mental illness. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study findings represent a paradigm shift in human understanding of the origins of physical, social, mental, and societal health and well-being. Bottom line, childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity.
North Texas Area United Way will be showing ‘Resilience,’ a new documentary that delves into the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences and a new movement to treat and prevent toxic stress. ‘Resilience’ reveals, toxic stress can trigger hormones that wreak havoc on the brains and bodies of children, putting them at a greater risk for disease, homelessness, prison time, and early death. While the broader impacts of poverty worsen the risk, no segment of society is immune. ‘Resilience’ is a fascinating documentary that eloquently explains the health-care issues that confront us directly and indirectly on a daily basis. But more than that, ‘Resilience’ gives us the solution to this problem. Rarely do you find a documentary that highlights a problem and gives a solution. It's a film every educator, health-care provider, and lawmaker should see. The documentary correlates high Adverse Childhood Experiences scores to increased medical problems in adulthood. With in-depth interviews with doctors, educators, and community advocates, ‘Resilience’ succinctly brings us not only the facts and figures about ACE's, but also the solutions to help children and prevent serious medical consequences later in life. The information could have easily been overwhelming in ‘Resilience,’ but with graphic art conveying the science and math that supports the concepts and well-balanced interviews, the film is entertaining too.
‘Resilience,’ however, also chronicles the dawn of a movement that is determined to fight back. Trailblazers in pediatrics, education, and social welfare are using cutting-edge science and field-tested therapies to protect children from the insidious effects of toxic stress—and the dark legacy of a childhood that no child would choose. Your local North Texas Area United Way (NTAUW), along with the Early Childhood Coalition and the Early Development Instrument Taskforce, is doing the same by working to improve the lives of high-risk children through direct-services and education. But we cannot do this alone. This must become a community effort.
The research focuses on the positive impact that one positive, supportive adult can make in the life of a child who has suffered adverse experiences. Having the support and guidance of a caring adult can help a child develop the resilience needed to bounce back from trauma and move forward. This relationship gives the child a chance at a healthy, successful life.
Sadly, many young parents never had the support of a caring adult as children. They lack the skills to form a bond with a child since they, themselves, never had that bond.
As a community, our response to ACE’s must be three-fold. We must educate the public about the physical and emotional health risks of adverse childhood experiences while working to prevent trauma to young children. We must also help parents develop healthy, strong bonds with caring responsible adults so that they can, in turn be the stabilizing force that helps their child develop resilience.
The wide-ranging health and social consequences of ACEs underscore the importance of preventing them before they happen. NTAUW promotes lifelong health and well-being through the Texas Home Visiting and H.O.P.E.S. (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Supports) program. The hallmark of these research-based programs is a professional educator, registered nurse or peer who forms a bond with the parent and offers resources, parenting help and support. The goal is to insure safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children. These United Way grant programs can have a positive impact on a broad range of health problems and on the development of skills that will help children reach their full potential.
For information about the “Resilience” documentary viewings or to learn how you can make a positive impact on the life of a young child, please contact Trish Dillmon or Carol Marlar at North Texas Area United Way.