Universal Children’s Day: Nearly half of America’s youngsters impacted by trauma
November 18, 2017 0 Comments
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) or traumatic events strike at the core of a child’s developmental framework – they not only affect the emotional health of a child, but also lead to lifelong consequences. According to the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), conducted by the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative (CAHMI) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), 34 million American children/youth aged up to 17 years (46.3 percent of the age group) experienced at least one traumatic event in 2016, with 21.7 percent experiencing two or more ACEs.
The analysis was undertaken in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and published in the Academic Pediatrics in October 2017. It assessed the impact of nine traumatic experiences, like the death or incarceration of a parent/guardian, witnessing or being involved in violence, living with a mentally ill/suicidal person or someone with drug and alcohol problems, and economic hardship, among others. Over 33 percent children with two or more ACEs suffered from a chronic health condition requiring specialized health interventions compared to 13.6 percent children without such experiences.
The United Nations observes November 20 as Universal Children’s Day to promote children’s welfare and to ensure that their rights are protected. This day seeks to emphasize, among other things, children’s right to life, health and education, their right to family life and to be protected from violence. By observing this day, parents, teachers and activists along with other individuals/organizations can reinforce these values in their communities and ensure that children grow up in safe spaces.
Early traumatic experiences produce toxic stress
In the absence of supportive adult relationships, early traumatic experiences can lead to the development of toxic stress among children. Such toxic stress can lead to destructive biological conditions which may manifest physically (obesity, heart disease) and emotionally (alcoholism, drug addiction). Affected children also have a higher likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behavior at a young age. Stressful life events have been consistently associated with elevated depressive symptoms and the onset of major depression in both adolescents and adults.
Early stressful life events lower an individual’s threshold for the severity of stress needed to activate depressive reactions. It was also found that youth exposed to community violence exhibited higher levels of aggression, conduct-related problems, and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Further, they showed problems with concentration and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The NSCH data showed that ACEs impacted children across racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups, although the prevalence was higher in black and Hispanic children (64 percent and 51 percent, respectively) compared to white children (40 percent). Moreover, 62 percent children from low-income families experienced at least one ACE, while 26 percent children in high-income families experienced one or more ACEs.
Children/adolescents aged between six and 17 years, with at least two ACEs, were twice as likely to remain detached at school as their peers without ACEs.
According to Christina D. Bethell, director of CAHMI, ACEs and traumatic events affect not only children but also their families, neighborhoods and communities. The impact of the circumstances adds up over time. Children’s stress and unhealed trauma can cause disruptions in the classroom which are felt by other children and teachers.
Dealing with depression
Richard E. Besser, president and CEO of the RWJF, said that “trauma doesn’t have to define a child’s life trajectory. They can be incredibly resilient.” As per him, many children lack fundamental aspects such as “a loving home, a good school, and a safe neighborhood” which are essential for their healthy development. The impact of childhood trauma can be mitigated by implementing supportive policies that help families nurture healthy children and ensuring that caring adults are a constant presence in their lives. Besides such supportive relationships, teaching children resilience skills can help reduce the harmful effects of trauma.
If children’s traumatic experiences are not addressed effectively, they can result in lasting mental health problems. As the leading therapeutic boarding school in Utah, White River Academy offers teen depression help to boys aged between 12 and 17 years. Call at our 24/7 helpline number or chat online with one of our experts to know more about the best boarding schools providing help for teenage depression.