Study Reveals Toll of Childhood Trauma

Impact of "Adverse Childhood Experiences"

DANVILLE, MONTOUR COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) -- A disturbing national trend is hitting close to home. It's an exposure in childhood that dramatically increases the risk for seven of the ten leading causes of death in the U.S.

That exposure isn't a virus, drug or pesticide. It's childhood trauma which can impact physical and mental health for a lifetime. New national data sheds light on just how serious this issue is across the country and in Pennsylvania.

"It's surprising that we don't hear more about it," said Geisinger Pediatric Psychologist Nicole Quinlan, Ph.D. She screens children for what some consider the greatest under-addressed public health threat in America, today: Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs for short. These traumatic events can be violence or abuse, the death, divorce or incarceration of a parent, or growing up with someone mentally ill, suicidal or drug dependent. Dr. Quinlan explained "The more of these that you have take a toll on you physically."

The impact of these traumas can alter a child's brain development, immune and hormonal systems and even their very DNA. In the latest National Survey of Children's Health, 47.1% of Pennsylvania children had at least one ACE, while 21.2% experienced two or more ACEs. Those numbers are comparable to what's happening nationally where 46.3% children had at least one ACE and 21.7% experienced two or more ACEs. High incidence of ACEs triples the lifetime risk of heart disease and lung cancer and can shorten life expectancy by 20 years.

While these figures are certainly disturbing, Dr. Quinlan is also concerned about the number of adverse childhood experiences that go unreported. Her work with Geisinger's Child Advocacy Center aims to intervene and prevent the adverse effects on children. "If there are kids that have traumatic symptoms, they're having emotional and behavioral symptoms, we can help hook them up with services."

United Way of Wyoming Valley in Wilkes-Barre is among various organizations addressing childhood trauma. Jennifer Deemer is its Vice President of Community Impact. "So, we're tackling it in multiple ways," she said. And addressing it in multiple ways. United Way of Wyoming Valley funds home visitation programs, educational workshops and community awareness projects. "We want to strengthen families. We want to educate parents on how to appropriately address issues with their children," said Ms. Deemer.

United Way of Wyoming Valley has a pair of free workshops coming up this month called "Front Porch Project" aimed at protecting kids from abuse.


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