I believe that only when we recognize and accept the existence and the real long-term negative effects of childhood adversity on our kids’ mental health, will we as a society feel compelled to figure out how to do a better job at understanding this form of trauma and healing it - through a family, and, as part of an interconnected community that cares.
The LinkBetween Early Childhood Adversity and Mental Health
“Children in care are four times more likely than their peers to have a mental health difficulty”.
The importance of a child’s “early years” is increasingly recognized by our society. We know that when mental health issues are identified and addressed early, outcomes are better. The “early years” benefit from a significant focus by researchers in the scientific and medical community and by policy makers. You are likely familiar with the many wonderful Ontario’s Early Years Centres and Best Start programs located in our communities across the province. This emphasis is absolutely merited. When our children thrive, our society thrives.
In an ideal world children would not face adversity, or at least the extent of adversity that can impact negatively on their long-term mental health; but they do. This adversity can include neglect, abuse, deprivation, family violence, substance abuse and also attachment disruptions – all traumatic events. We need to do more as a society to reduce the level of adversity children face.
We also need to do a better job at figuring how to mitigate the long-term effects, and in particular the long-term mental health effects, of adversity when it does occur. This is even more crucial when that adversity happens in a child’s “early years” – the critical time when a child’s brain is forming by leaps and bounds, and, when primary attachment relationships start to take shape.
Too many kids in our province and in our country miss the chance at early interventions. Sometimes their parents are not able to integrate the necessary understanding and skills into their parenting. Why? Because of their own issues – in many cases, untreated mental health issues – and, often, issues directly related to their own early life histories and adversities.
These kids, in fact, OUR kids in and from foster and institutional care –deserve another chance at these “early” interventions - a “2.0” early intervention, if you will.
How can we help our kids heal?
Children entering foster care should be given this “2.0” opportunity. They may no longer be in the 0-3 age range, or even in the 0-6 age range, but they still deserve their own “Best RE-Start”.
These interventions, tailored to the specific needs of each child, should be continued through their journey to permanency for as long as needed to mitigate the effect of their early life adversity. This should happen regardless of whether they return to their birth family or join an adoptive or kinship family.
What would second-stage early interventions look like?
- Doing a much better job at understanding the effects, particularly the long-term brain effects, of early life adversity and trauma.
- People paying attention to the mental health needs of children and youth involved or who have been involved with the child welfare system.
- Really smart, passionate and committed people coming up with evidence-based methods including non-traditional and non-pharmaceutical methods of calming and resetting our kids’ nervous systems.
- Respecting and leveraging the deep knowledge and experience of our indigenous peoples in healing
- Finally accepting Developmental Trauma as a diagnosis AND a way forward
So on January 25th, Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk Day….
Let’s take on childhood adversity before it takes over our kids…
Let’s Talk, use hashtags #BellLetsTalk & #Adoption on twitter to join the conversation.
More on adverse childhood experiences and longterm health:
How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime | Dr. Nadine Burke Harris
The PTSD that’s called everything but... read.
Today is Bell Let's Talk Day. Bell Let’s Talk is a multi-year charitable program dedicated to mental health. Today, Kathy Soden, a parent through adoption, gives her thoughts on the fallout of the trauma that children and youth who experience early life neglect, abuse and attachment disruptions have to live with.
Written by Kathy Soden, CPA, CA, Manager, Permanency & Adoption Competency Training (PACT)