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Childhood trauma linked to adult diseases

Reports of child abuse continually surface in the office of Roxy Foster, who hears of the gamut of ways children are harmed — one girl gets sexually abused by a relative, another baby boy gets brain damage after his inexperienced father throws him against the wall.

Foster, director of prevention initiatives at St. Paul-based Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota, said it’s important for communities to understand what trauma can do to a child.

Studies have linked the chemicals caused by stress in children to arrested development and other physical effects later in life, she said.

“If that young man learned in high school or middle school what sort of damage he could do to that child, maybe he’d think twice about behaving that way,” she said.

According to a state Department of Health study, more than half of Minnesotans had an adverse experience in their childhood that could have a lifelong impact on their health. The finding led to a series of public forums, including one being held in Crookston at 8:30 a.m. today at Trinity Lutheran Church.

The event intends to teach the community about the impact of trauma on the developing brain, how the long-term impact of these experiences affect communities and the ways people can reduce the number of adverse childhood experiences, according to a PCAMn news release. 

Study findings

Event speakers will present findings from the 2011 Minnesota Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which surveyed 13,520 adults and found 55 percent reported experiencing at least one childhood incident ranging from their parents divorcing to substance abuse. The state is one of 18 that did the survey.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente, a nonprofit group involved in health planning, performed the first of these studies in 1997. The study, which tracked more than 17,000 people, found that many adults suffering from obesity and other ailments had also been exposed to abuse, neglect and family dysfunction as children.

These adverse experiences meant that even white, educated and financially-secure adults had some of the same chronic health diseases found in minorities who were undereducated, under employed and financially disadvantaged, said Sue Thompson, community facilitator at Polk County Public Health.

Foster said the new study underscores the need for parents to understand how a child’s brain is developed.

“Because of the toxic chemicals being released continually when children are in that constant state of trauma and stress, the chemical changes within the brain contribute to a lack of development in the parts of the brain that help us make behavioral changes later in life,” she said.

At a speaking event in St. Cloud, Minn., Foster said she talked to a mother who said her anger was triggered if someone gave her a dirty look, causing her to want to “beat that person up.”

“That’s how someone might have looked at you as a child, and all you want to do is get up and fight,” Foster said. “So, it’s really important to understand this foundational stuff, especially when we’ve got so many kids with behavioral disorders that may be directly related to their early childhood experiences.”

Article written by Jennifer Johnson of the Grand Forks Herald

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