Effects of adversity in children and youth can last a lifetime | Guest Column

Submitted by Stand Up Men Against Domestic Violence.

While most of us are aware of the harm caused by assault and violence in our society, it is less well understood that such adversity can have profound, lingering effects in children and youth. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as experiencing or witnessing violence, abuse, or neglect, may occur during the ages of 0-17. Their magnitude and impact are extensive. In the U.S. more than 4.3 million cases of child abuse are reported each year and the estimated unreported cases are double that number. The economic toll on the health care system is a staggering $800 billion per year.

ACEs have long-lasting effects. Recent neuroscience advances suggest that trauma can alter the brain activity where frequent fight/flight responses become a default setting that takes an immediate and long-term toll on the body. The initial ACE study in ’98 and follow-up studies document a strong relationship between child abuse victims and their health problems leading to earlier deaths in adulthood as well as correlations with mental health issues, substance abuse, and other chronic health problems. The life expectancy of children with 6 or more adverse experiences is on average two decades shorter compared to children with no experiences of abuse.

Child maltreatment is prevalent across all racial, ethnic, and economic categories. Every community is impacted by child abuse on many levels. However, it doesn’t need to be like this. Child abuse is preventable. Victims can recover and reach their full potential. Trauma researchers identify the critical role of community where safe, nurturing relationships and environments are created and sustained. Healing is more likely to occur in the community than with therapy. Just a few of the preventative strategies recommended by the Center for Disease Control include: family-friendly work places, early childhood home visitation, teaching social-emotional learning, healthy relationships, parenting skills, and mentoring programs for adolescents.

So, what is the present state of our community’s support systems and what are areas requiring additional emphasis and focus? The Stand Up Men Against Domestic Violence of San Juan County gather every Friday at noon on the San Juan County Courthouse lawn to bear witness to the prevalence of domestic violence and create a greater awareness. Some passing motorists honk their horns. Others wave. Some pedestrians offer encouraging comments. We invite you to drop by on Fridays and stand with us. Let’s talk about creating a community where all children, youth, and families can experience safe, loving and healthy relationships.