Child Maltreatment conference focuses on lifelong effects of childhood trauma

The lifelong effects of childhood trauma have been the subject of talks among the 350-some participants in the Alaska Child Maltreatment Conference held in Anchorage this week, and hosted by the Alaska Children’s Alliance.

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, such as abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction caused by substance abuse, for instance, or domestic violence … significantly affect adult behavior, social health and physical health. That’s according to Dr. Rob Anda, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the 1990s, he and Dr. Vincent Felletti, of Kaiser Permanente, surveyed 17,000 people about ACES and about their health. Anda says the results show the higher the number of ACEs, the more problems later in life:

Those included behaviors that are risk factors for major illness, smoking and alcohol and drug abuse. We see social problems, difficulty maintaining relationships keeping families together. The risk of growing up and being a victim of violence as an adult. And even things like being able to do your job, performing well on the job, being able to get to your job, and show up to your job and do your job well.

Anda says high ACEs scores are also linked to leading causes of death, such as heart disease, cancer, and diseases of the lungs, liver and immune system.

He says the people surveyed were well educated, and mostly middle class.

But two thirds of them had at least one adverse childhood experience, and 16% had four or more ACEs, indicating, he says, adversity is common and has no social or economic boundaries.

Gretchen Schmeltzer, PhD, is a licensed psychologist from Massachusetts.

She says adverse childhood experiences are widespread among Alaska Natives of at least one generation:

“We’ve seen in the Alaska Native communities, is the boarding schools. People weren’t allowed to be with their parents and were abused there.”

Schmeltzer says people who experience childhood trauma have difficulty attaching to others and forming healthy relationships, and in managing their emotions,  she says those traits are passed on from generation to generation:

“The generation that’s experienced trauma the impact on them is basically they have to shut down emotionally to survive the trauma and they lose trust in relationships and then it’s very difficult to parent and then their children grow up not knowing how to do those two things. And those two things are what help us manage stress and help us get along in the world and as we have fewer and fewer of those skills, it becomes harder and harder to cope.”

Anda says he’s encouraged by the participation of a range of professionals in the conference, which includes social workers, law enforcement officers, counselors, teachers, nurses, and others who work with children.

Dr. Ward Hurlbert, chief medical officer and Public Health director in the state department of health and human services agrees a collaborative effort is needed. He says the state has programs to teach and support good parenting, but a broader change is needed:

“Our children are fragile and we do them great harm when we don’t place enough priority on bringing a child into this world, that this is a blessing and a new living being that is very fragile, and that we need to take the responsibility of raising that child more seriously than we do.”

Hurlbert says the state is including questions about adverse childhood experiences in a behavioral risk survey planned for next year.

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Source: Joaqlin Estus, KNBA

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