The long-term impact of adverse childhood experiences has been in the national news recently, cited in columns by Nicholas Kristof and David Brooks of the New York Times. With the release of a state survey linking childhood trauma and stress to poor health later in life ("Youth trauma linked to later ills," Jan. 28), the topic is finally getting the attention it deserves in Minnesota.
The findings of the survey, released by the Minnesota Department of Health earlier this week, reported that traumatic events in childhood -- such as experiencing physical, sexual or verbal abuse; parental divorce, or domestic violence -- can have lifelong consequences, resulting in poor physical and mental health in adulthood. The number of Minnesota adults who experienced an adverse childhood experience that could affect their health as adults is overwhelming -- more than 50 percent.
As a community, we can best serve Minnesota's children by intervening before those who are experiencing such "toxic stress" reach adulthood. Studies show that toxic stress -- prolonged stress in children with inadequate adult help -- can affect a child's brain development and ability to learn, explore and play. The effects are lasting, not only on a child's mental and physical health later in life, but also on the ability to succeed academically, economically and socially.
It isn't adversity alone that predicts poor outcomes, but rather the absence of protective relationships in the face of adversity. At Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, we explored how to best serve children and families who have experienced complex trauma and stress.
We worked with local early-childhood mental-health experts to create "The Nursery Way" -- trauma-informed care protocols designed to give stressed children and families tools to build resiliency and develop coping strategies. The protocols include support for parents to strengthen and maintain positive relationships with their children.
We as a community must work together to strengthen and support the parents and providers who are caring for our most vulnerable children. We must increase access and availability to experts in the community who can help parents and providers support children who have experienced adversities such as homelessness, poverty, domestic violence or maternal depression.
What we do at the Crisis Nursery is only one part of any solution for our community. The study by the Department of Health brings needed attention to a critical issue. Let it be a call to action for greater attention going forward. Early intervention in the lives of children experiencing trauma or stress is our best chance at helping build resilient, healthy adults and a thriving community.
MARY PAT LEE
The writer is executive director of Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery.