Peace of Mind: Adverse Childhood Experiences

Updated: May. 8, 2017 at 6:13 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - Science shows children's exposure to trauma and toxic stress could lead to major health problems later in life.

Walk into any classroom at Evansville's Ark Crisis Child Care Center, and you will find children who feel safe and welcome.

"A lot of the kids that we see have lived in a number of different places, they don't have a home, they don't have some place to call their own," said Angie Richards Cooley, Ark Crisis Child Care Center executive director. "So we work really hard here at Ark to make sure that this becomes their safe place, their constant place."

The landmark ACES study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (Kaiser Permanente) found that stresses such as violence, neglect, abuse, or divorce, can impair a child's development, putting them at risk for a host of physical, emotional and social problems as an adult.

"Substance abuse, chemical dependency to smoking, heart disease, obesity, all of those things, diabetes, all of these are tied to ACES in some way.  It can also affect mental health, cause lots of relationship issues, could lead people into addiction or behaviors they might not have chosen," said Lynn Kyle, Lampion Center executive director.

But Lynn Kyle with the non-profit counseling group, Lampion Center, says these adversities do not have to dictate a child's life story. A good outcome starts with addressing the issues right from the start.

"What is predictable is preventable. We know we can predict some health indicators for later and functioning for adults by what happened when they were children," explained Kyle. "So, if we can make a positive effect with children early on, help them be resilient, provide protective factors for them, they won't have the health effects later."

According to research, the presence of just one nurturing adult in a child's life may often make all the difference.

"It can be little moments with family, with friends, at a child care center such as Ark," said Kyle

"It's being greeted in the morning warmly by a teacher who comes down to your level and can hold out their arms and say I'm so happy to see you today," said Cooley.

"I'm at the grocery and I'm walking by a child in the cart and you're making eye contact, you're waving and you're getting something back from them.  I can picture the MRI of that child's brain and it's just going zing," said Kyle.

Kyle and other community leaders are using this research to educate families, child care workers, teachers, and social service providers.

"Helping people that are in the helping profession know how to provide resilience and protective factors for them."

Putting science into action to build a healthier foundation for the Tri-State community's future.

"Giving every child some sense of worth, some sense of being welcomed and belonging, and being a part of an overall picture of wonderful really gives them a sense of value in their own lives," said Cooley.

A high number of adverse childhood experiences does not automatically mean health issues will develop, but it does put a child at greater risk.

Click here for more information on ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and tips for parents and caregivers to better build a child's brain.

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