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Childhood Trauma and Health: Understanding the Connection

This is the first in a three-part series about the ways early-childhood trauma impacts health later in life and how organizations in Grand Rapids and metro Detroit are addressing the issue head-on.

Does a happy, trauma-free childhood lead to a healthier life?

Conversely, can so-called adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) lead to reduced chances for a healthy, productive life?

Ongoing research makes the connection. Traumatic events identified in Centers for Disease Control-led research include:

  • Abuse, whether it be emotional, physical or sexual in nature.
  • Household challenges such as a parent being treated violently in front of you, household substance abuse, mental illness in the household, parental separation or divorce, or a criminal household member.
  • Neglect, which includes emotional – not having someone to make sure you felt loved and cared for – and physical, which could include not having enough to eat or caretakers who didn’t provide necessities such as clean clothes and a tidy home.

The CDC’s longitudinal study shows that the more ACEs a person experiences as a child the more likely they are to experience negative outcomes such as alcoholism, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, illicit drug use, financial stress and sexually transmitted disease as an adult.

Almost two-thirds of adults surveyed reported at least one ACE. According to the research, people with six or more ACEs died nearly 20 years earlier on average than those without ACEs, while estimated lifetime costs associated with child maltreatment are estimated at $124 billion.

The good news? Smart, targeted interventions ranging from home visits, parent training programs, social support initiatives, high-quality child care and more can have positive effects on a broad range of health problems and on the development of skills to help children reach their full potential.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation recognizes that health is about more than what happens in the doctor’s office. To this end, grants have been awarded to organizations dealing with social determinants of health, including ACEs.

We’ll look at two such organizations, Family Futures in Grand Rapids and Starfish Family Services in metro Detroit, in subsequent blog posts. Check back for their stories and to learn about the work they’re doing to positively impact families and children in their respective communities.

Check back tomorrow to see how Starfish Family Services has been working to implement Trauma Smart training for all of their staff.

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Photo credit: Eric Prunier

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