Volume XIV | Issue 2 | Fall 2014

Major study raises the alarm for children

Childhood trauma leads to adverse health, mental and other issues later

What happens in early childhood matters. Those of us who have dedicated our careers to early childhood issues know that the early years of life are crucial not only for individual health and physical development, but also for cognitive and social-emotional development. But attention to the importance of happy, healthy childhoods — and the devastation that results when they aren’t — really entered the mainstream with the publication of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

   childhood trauma linked to long-term consequences

The national study investigates the link between childhood trauma and long-term health and social consequences. It is considered a landmark public health research study, the largest of its kind ever conducted. The initial surveys were conducted between 1995 and 1997 by researchers from Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control. The 17,421 participants were subsequently followed for more than 15 years.

The findings raised a national alarm, as the investigation found strong correlations between childhood trauma and increased risk of suffering from health, mental and adverse societal issues. In obese patients (the group that triggered the principal researcher’s interest in the subject), for example, the study found that, often, obesity wasn’t the real issue. Although a significant health concern, obesity for these patients was a result of other problems, most notably childhood sexual abuse. 

What struck me most was the evidence on how deep and long lasting the impacts of this trauma can be.  The study found that even adults who appeared to have triumphed over difficult childhoods — ones with happy families and good jobs — were still at higher risk for health conditions such as heart disease.

Here at The Ford Family Foundation, we felt the findings of the study were important enough to merit further study. To that end, we commissioned a report to look at efforts in Oregon related to the early childhood study. You can read what we discovered. It is not intended as a comprehensive review of programs and initiatives. Instead, we hope to bring attention to the study, while at the same time spark thought on how different sectors could work together to prevent the risk factors or at least lessen their impacts. Our report is available through Select Books, too.

You also will find several related stories in this issue of Community Vitality. We profile the Yoncalla Early Works learning initiative. 

We look at Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children program, which seeks to empower adults to prevent child sexual abuse. You will hear more about this program in coming months, as the Foundation works with nonprofit organizations in Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif., to train more than 20,000 adults in the curriculum. 

And you’ll meet Robert Johnson, who survived his own adverse childhood experiences to become a Ford Scholar.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study is sobering, and it has huge implications — not just for early childhood experts but for everyone in our society. It is only by understanding these connections that we can improve efforts towards prevention and recovery.

At the Foundation, we also see it as a golden opportunity — a chance to link together the good work communities are doing in health care, early childhood education and social services.  

But it will take all of us learning together and working together to make good things happen. We want this issue of Community Vitality to help make that process an important and productive one.  

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