Raising Awareness of the Impact of Early Childhood Trauma

Posted October 06, 2016 by Bethany Applebaum; Cherri Pruitt

Doctor Comforting Girl
New approaches to treating childhood trauma could help patients overcome issues like toxic stress.
Early childhood trauma – whether from unexpected acts of violence or entrenched, continuous influences such as chaotic home life or family violence – is pervasive and can have cumulative, life-altering impacts. The stress of childhood trauma releases hormones that physically damage a child’s developing brain. Children with toxic stress live most of their lives in flight or fight mode, making it difficult to learn in school and build healthy relationships.

Much of the research in this area has been referred to as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and is grounded in the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences StudyExternal Link, which explored 10 types of childhood trauma:
  • Physical abuse 
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mother treated violently 
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce 
  • Incarcerated household member 
For the first time, the study provides documentation of the association of ACEs with a long list of lifelong health and social consequences for individuals. To help mitigate these impacts, many communities are actively strategizing on how to address ACEs and trauma.

Within the Infant Mortality Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network (IM CoIIN), there are six learning networks focused on topics within infant mortality that are of common interest across the states – one of which is social determinants of health (SDoH). The aim of the SDoH Learning Network is to build state and local capacity and test innovative strategies to shift the impact of SDoH. This learning network has adopted the World Health Organization (WHO) SDoH framework to help develop a consensus set of 20 strategies to foster innovation and advance policies and programs. ACEs, trauma and resilience was included as a prioritized strategy in this framework, and at a July 2015 IM CoIIN workshop on innovation a small group of the SDoH Learning Network members decided to create a separate Trauma COIN to focus on innovating to address Trauma.

The Early Childhood Trauma COIN is currently working on a Wikipedia page focused on early childhood trauma that will provide information to a broad audience. The Wikipedia page will be a resource to assist a broad audience to better understand the impact trauma has across society and how to create trauma-informed and responsive environments.

The Early Childhood Trauma COIN is supported by Cherri Pruitt, HRSA MCHB, and Bethany Applebaum, HRSA Office of Women’s Health and NICHQ Coaches Peter Gloor, Research Scientist, MIT Sloan School of Management and Moira Inkelas, Associate Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. If you would like to join the Early Childhood COIN, or have any questions, please contact Cherri or Bethany: cpruitt@hrsa.gov or bapplebaum@hrsa.gov.

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