For long-term health, protect young children from trauma

By Howard Garval
This article appeared in the Island Voices section of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on 06-02-2016.

In the nonprofit world, evidence-based outcomes, or science that works, play a crucial role in our ability to deliver services that have been researched to prove effectiveness, and thus make qualitative and financial sense.

For health and human services nonprofits like Child & Family Service, those include evidence-based models across a full range of family-strengthening programs, including child, youth and domestic violence as well as gerontology program areas.

There is a growing body of evidence that early intervention programs also play a role in preventing health and social problems later in life.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), a research study conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has linked childhood trauma to long-term health and social consequences.

One of the largest scientific studies of its kind with more than 17,000 participants, over the course of a decade the results demonstrated a strong, graded relationship between the level of traumatic stress in childhood and poor physical, mental and behavioral outcomes later in life.

Those ranged from behavioral issues such as difficulty learning or focusing in school and increased smoking or substance abuse, to chronic health conditions including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

If we can prevent childhood trauma like child abuse, the long-term implications are huge in both improved lives and cost savings in the health care system.

Research is also showing the connection between childhood trauma and poverty. Earlier this year the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new recommendations urging doctors to ask at all well-child visits whether families are able to make ends meet.

Children living in poverty can face a number of health problems that could affect them for their entire lives.
Stressed parents who are worried about housing or where the next meal is coming from are not as able to nurture their young babies, which is important for proper development.

A recent study from a researcher at Stanford University and Veteran Affairs Health Care System in Palo Alto, Calif., adds to a growing body of evidence showing that childhood trauma is associated with an increased risk for a variety of mental health disorders, including depression.

The study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry notes that having a history of abuse during childhood may signal a low likelihood that antidepressant drugs will improve an adult’s symptoms of major depression and that the presence of trauma history should be taken into account when making treatment decisions.

A specific history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, however — particularly if it occurred at age 7 or younger — was associated with a worse response to the drugs, the study found.

When it comes to strengthening families, the younger the better. For example, our CFS Healthy Families Program provides comprehensive home visitation services to prenatal families or families with newborn infants who have been identified as being at high risk for abuse.

Over 99 percent of families who participate in the program for one year or more have no reports of abuse.

Programs like these make an early connection that can have life-long impact not only for individual families, but also for the social and economic welfare of our collective community.

This article appeared in the Island Voices section of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on 06-02-2016.

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