There is sufficient evidence to support the association between toxic stress in childhood and poor outcomes in the future, and this can have large financial repercussions for societies at large. As a result of toxic stress, children who have endured various forms of trauma have underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes—the part of the brain responsible for executive processes, such as decision making, self-regulation, and impulse control. As children enter adolescence, these brain changes can, in part, explain increased youth engagement in risk-taking behavior. This can lead to increased risk for negative social and economic outcomes in adulthood, such as higher risks of poor educational attainment, unemployment, poverty, homelessnes, and incarceration. While there is no true way to measure the financial impact of family-induced trauma, researchers estimate that the nonfatal child maltreatment lifetime cost is $830,928 per victim. The estimated economic burden for all investigated and substantial incidences of child maltreatment was $2 trillion. These estimates consider not only health care costs, but also costs associated with child welfare, the criminal justice system, special education programs, loss of productivity, and overall decreased quality of life.
In the absence of family figures who can provide safe, stable nurturing relationships, community members must commit to support these youth as they grow and develop in order that they may build resilience in the face of toxic stress. It is not sufficient as a society to allow family-induced trauma to persist and rely on the hope that children will become resilient themselves—we must create resilient communities. Our political and social systems have the potential to create policies and practices that prevent family-induced trauma and give all youth the opportunity to thrive.