What is Childhood Trauma?
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events that children experience before age 18, such as violence at home, neglect, abuse, or having a parent with mental illness or substance dependence. High or frequent exposure to ACEs can dysregulate children’s stress response. Fortunately, the support of a caring adult can help buffer against stressful events for children.
Most of us – no matter who we are or where we come from – have experienced some level of adversity in our lives. However, there are wide ranges in the type, severity and frequency of adversity. If it is severe or chronic, it can cause changes to our bodies and may lead to significant health problems.
While 60% of the population reports having one or more ACEs in their own lives, families who grow up in neighborhoods plagued by violence and poverty tend to have more frequent and damaging exposure. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first-ever Surgeon General, recently appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom, has said childhood adversity “literally gets under our skin and has the potential to change our health.”
Stress responses are overactive in situations where ACEs are common and persistent like growing up in neighborhoods with high rates of community poverty and violence, or in a home where there is prolonged abuse, neglect or a parent with criminal or substance abuse issues. This affects brain development, immune systems and other parts of the body. The results over time are health problems, substance abuse and other high-risk behaviors, trouble staying focused, or completing tasks, school dropout and difficulty getting along with others – challenges that appear in childhood and last throughout adulthood. Often children who grow up with high ACEs scores also have parents who faced persistent childhood adversity leading to a cycle of trauma and intergenerational poverty.
CII engages children and families from an early age and provides practical skills and relationship-oriented interventions to promote self-regulation, instill hope, foster resilience, and build protective factors that limit the effects of ACEs.Jesús Parra, Vice President of Behavioral Health & Wellness at CII
Research shows that some individuals with a high number of ACEs do not experience these health risks because they received support in the form of therapy or protective home environments, which points to the importance of early intervention, family strengthening and easy access to mental health and wellness programs.
Children’s Institute supports communities across Los Angeles where children and families are facing adversity caused by poverty and community violence. We provide high-quality Early Childhood Education in nurturing environments that support healthy development for children and offer a wide variety of supports for parents. We work with kids who may have experienced trauma and connect them with counselors to promote emotional wellness.
Jesús Parra, Vice President of Behavioral Health & Wellness at CII, said early intervention paired with emotional and social support are key in preventing and healing trauma. He said that a high number of ACEs won’t dictate a child’s life as long as children receive loving support and feel safe in their family and community.
“Neuroscience helps us to understand how the presence of at least one healthy relationship can serve as a buffer for adversity that promotes self-regulation and builds resilience,” Parra said. “CII engages children and families from an early age and provides practical skills and relationship-oriented interventions to promote self-regulation, instill hope, foster resilience, and build protective factors that limit the effects of ACEs.”
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you are interested in learning more about mental health and wellness at Children’s Institute or need access to mental health services, please contact 213.807.1998 ext. 3433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.