The Hidden and Devastating Consequences of Childhood Trauma
More than 25 years ago, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente launched one of the largest investigations into the long-term effects of childhood abuse and neglect ever conducted.
The landmark CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study exposed a hidden public health crisis. Among its most startling revelations was the prevalence of family-induced childhood trauma among participants.
Almost two-thirds of the 17,000 study participants reported at least one “adverse childhood experience'' or ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. The study defined an ACE as sexual, verbal or physical abuse, or family dysfunction, such as a parent who struggles with alcoholism, a mother who is a victim of domestic violence, or the loss of a parent through abandonment.
The study showed a “graded relationship” between ACEs and negative health and well-being outcomes later in life. In other words, the more abuse, neglect and family dysfunction that a person experiences early on, the more likely this person will end up dealing with any number of physical, psychological and emotional problems, well into adulthood.
These negative outcomes include:
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Chronic disease
- Poor work performance
- Financial stress
- Risk for sexual violence
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Suicide attempts
- Early initiation of sexual activity and teenage pregnancy
- Poor academic achievement
The ACE Study goes to the very heart of what we’re trying to do at For The Children. We know how crucial it is to protect and nurture children who have faced family-induced trauma because of the consequences for them — and for all of us — if they don’t get the help they need.
We know that there’s a long-term cost if we don’t do something now to prevent these children from growing up as adults with deep wounds. Clearly, we can trace many of our societal ills back to the maltreatment that so many of our kids face every day.
This is quite literally a life-and-death matter. Did you know that an average of 5 children die from abuse or neglect every single day in America? An estimated 1,840 children die each year from abuse or neglect, according to federal statistics.
In the majority of cases (nearly 80%), the child’s parents were responsible for the death.
What would these numbers look like if we centered the needs of this vulnerable population in our communities? How can we transform the way we approach family-induced childhood trauma so that the scars are not so deep, and the personal and societal costs aren’t so devastating?
First, we can all be more vigilant and watch for the tell-tale signs of abuse and neglect. All it takes is one responsible adult who cares enough to say something when they see something. That’s why For The Children recently released our free handout, “A Community’s Guide to Identifying Abuse.”
When children have been abused or neglected, it’s critically important to get them help in the form of trauma-informed care. Under this type of evidence-based therapy, these children engage with trained professionals who acknowledge a child’s history of trauma and how that trauma can affect the child’s behavior now and have consequences later.
Our primary model of care at FTC centers on “trust-based relational intervention” (TBRI), an evidence-based approach for working with children “from hard places.” Developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross at the Child Development Institute at Texas Christian University, TBRI is a holistic intervention designed to meet the needs of the “whole child.” It’s an approach to caregiving that is attachment-based, developmentally appropriate, and responsive to the child’s past trauma.
(Read our blog post on why vulnerable children need trust-based relationships to overcome their past trauma.)
Communities can also promote a variety of “protective factors” that can mitigate the long-term effects of maltreatment and trauma. These include:
- Encouraging involvement in positive activities
- Developing relational skills and problem-solving skills
- Interacting with positive peers and supportive mentors
- Creating positive and stable school and home environments
- Helping parents improve their parenting competencies and skills
For this reason, FTC offers a robust mentoring program. Our well-known and long-running summer camps for abused and neglected kids, called the Royal Family KIDS Camps, have helped thousands of children experience joy and a sense of purpose while experiencing an unforgettable time with peers and supportive, trained volunteers.
What can you do in your community to be a protective force around this highly vulnerable population?
All it takes is one caring adult to make a difference.