Did You Know Childhood Trauma Affects Nearly Half of American Children?
In the United States, 34.8 million children (ages 0-17)—nearly half of American children—are exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that can severely harm their future health and well-being. The implications are so severe that, according to a CDC ACE Study, exposure to six or more ACEs can lower an individual’s life expectancy by nearly 20 years.
ACEs fall under the category of early childhood trauma, a rampant and often unreported problem in the U.S., and include stressful or traumatic events stemming from abuse, neglect, household dysfunction and toxic stress. This trauma can:
- activate the sympathetic nervous system by releasing stress hormones, resulting in an increased heart rate and breathing, constricted blood vessels, tightened muscles and dilated pupils.
- negatively impact children’s developing brains—which are especially vulnerable to the stress induced by trauma—by releasing hormones that physically alter developing brain structure and function.
- adversely impact a child’s developing immune system, hormonal systems and even the way the body reads and transcribes DNA.
- lead children to spend most of their lives in fight-or-flight mode, making it difficult for them to build healthy relationships, thrive at school or maintain future employment.
“Early childhood trauma transcends economic, cultural and racial demographics; it can happen to anyone regardless of their background,” says NICHQ Project Director Colleen Murphy, MSMOB. “In our efforts to improve early childhood systems and achieve health equity, we need to acknowledge trauma as a critical social determinant of children’s health.”
An Early Childhood Trauma Collaborative Innovation Network (Trauma CoIN) is addressing this issue head on. The Trauma CoIN, a subset of the NICHQ-led Infant Mortality Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network (Infant Mortality CoIIN), seeks to raise awareness among parents, community members and policy experts about how to define and understand early childhood trauma and its impact across society, and to promote resiliency and healing.
The Trauma CoIN leverages a collaborative framework to bring together practitioners and subject matter experts from multiple sectors to develop their collective expertise and build awareness about childhood trauma. Their work has led to the following tips for those seeking to establish momentum in their community or state:
- Provide the appropriate language: While people are already discussing the importance of addressing early childhood trauma, this conversation can be stalled when participants are confronted with misinformation or unexplained jargon. Creating a place for accessible, evidence-based information can generate productive, equitable conversation, bringing together participants of different backgrounds and levels of expertise.
- Build awareness: Much of the current conversation takes place within academia, meaning that many possible allies and resources are left untapped. Moving the conversation into the mainstream media by raising public awareness can build vital energy and momentum.
- Study successful models: A number of states have legislation that addresses early childhood trauma and support a trauma-informed health system. From developing ACE screenings to incorporating trauma-informed processes into multiple early childhood systems, these bills and statutes signify a growing national momentum.
The first two tips are already being addressed by the Trauma CoIN with an Early Childhood Trauma Wikipedia page that provides an accessible site for individuals to learn about early childhood trauma and access educational materials. By exploring their page, you can join the conversation and help build lasting awareness.
“Early childhood trauma is one in a lengthy list of social determinants impacting children’s health,” says Murphy. “We’ll achieve true health equity—where every child in every population reaches his or her health potential— when all childhood systems, from health to education to housing, account for all social determinants of health.”
The Trauma CoIN is continuously growing and welcomes further collaborations to help raise awareness of early childhood trauma and its impacts across the lifespan, and to promote resilient and responsive systems. If you are interested in joining, please subscribe to the listserv to receive announcements of future meetings. For additional questions, please email the list owners at TRAUMA-COIN-request@LIST.NIH.GOV.
Racially Motivated Violence is a Children’s Health Issue
In the wake of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Highland Park, and too many others, we discuss the mental health implications of racially motivated and gun violence on children and their families with Stacy Scott, PhD, MPA, Executive Project Director and Equity Lead at NICHQ, and Becky Russell, MSPH, Senior Director of Applied Research and Evaluation at NICHQ.
3 Strategies to Leverage Community-Based Research in Maternal and Child Health
During Spring 2021 DARE conducted a series of community listening sessions for the National Action Partnership to Promote Safe Sleep Improvement and Innovation Network (NAPPSS-IIN). Listening session participants were asked about the resources and tools that help them promote safe sleep and breastfeeding/chestfeeding, and additional support needed to meet community safe sleep and breastfeeding/chestfeeding needs. While the analytic results are forthcoming, DARE is excited to share key lessons learned during NAPPSS-IIN community listening sessions.
A Physician’s Reflections on Racism and Treating Sickle Cell Disease
For NICHQ’s current and future work, I am motivated by wanting to be a better version of myself in service of others. Wondering whether my own implicit biases impacted my care of patients and families, I realize that I cannot redo past ER experiences. If I could go back, I would slow down to acknowledge and try to set my biases aside and approach patients from a personally more informed perspective. But now, I can use my past, present, and future experiences to ensure NICHQ is amplifying important lessons from this multi-year effort reflecting the compassion, care, and commitment of hundreds of dedicated professionals in pursuit of equitable, accessible, and quality healthcare for people living with sickle cell disease.
Navigating Well-Child Visits and Vaccinations during COVID-19
Well-child visits and recommended vaccinations are essential, ensuring children stay healthy and are protected from preventable diseases and illnesses such as measles, whooping cough, and seasonal flu. But, as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, data shows that fewer childhood vaccinations have been given and many children have fallen behind on their scheduled appointments. Healthcare professionals should utilize the following strategies to work with parents and caregivers to get their children caught up on missed appointments and recommended vaccinations.
Exploring a Nonbinary Approach to Health
NICHQ is not abandoning the traditional use of the terms “mother” and “maternal.” We are embracing the inclusive language of “birthing person/people” across our work. A move toward inclusive language does not force us to stop using language that so many people identify with; at its core, inclusion is about creating more space for one another. We are taking care to expand the use of these terms in our communications, on our website, in our resources, and eventually, in all our projects.