Childhood Trauma & Mental Health | #BellLetsTalk

Date: January 30, 2019 Author: ACO Administrator Categories: Adoptees | Mental Health

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)



Talking has power.

Talking together brings understanding.

Understanding leads to action.

Along with many others, ACO cares deeply about the mental health of children and youth on adoption and permanency journeys, as well as the mental health of their families – birth, adoptive, kinship, customary care and foster families.

We know that adverse childhood experiences such abuse, neglect, separation from primary caregivers and other trauma can impact a child’s long term mental health. Read our previous Bell Let’s Talk posts on Early Childhood Adversity & Mental Health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The good news is that the connection between early life adversity and mental health is becoming better understood and a paradigm shift has begun in the way we are looking at, thinking about and talking about the impacts, and particularly the brain impacts of adversity.

A few years ago a California pediatrician named Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris presented a riveting TED talk on how childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. She highlighted the key role that early life adversity has on mental and physical health over the life span. She reviewed the 1990’s ACE’s study and the enormous impact that these issues have on public health and the resultant costs to society. Since then she has delved further into this work and specifically focused on the effect that “toxic stress” has on her pediatric patients and their families. She established a clinic that screens for ACE’s and developed an integrated, multi-sector approach to treatment. Last year, she wrote a great book about her work called The Deepest Well. And this week we learned, with excitement, that Dr. Burke-Harris was named Surgeon General of California!

Talking leads to change.

In Alberta, the Palix Foundation and the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) who focus on the contributors to addiction, have done extensive research over the last ten years and developed an incredible treasure trove of fabulous resources about the brain’s architecture and the impact of early life adversity on it. They have a series of great videos and other resources available to everyone on the AFWI website.  They have also developed, with many experts in the field, a course called the The Brain Story certification that’s available on-line at NO cost. The course brings this research to a multi-sector professional and public audience. Recently the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addictions and the Mental Health Commission of Canada have embraced this knowledge and are involved in sharing this information through webinars and “brain labs” to inform many in Canada about this new knowledge.

Each of these important initiatives is the result of people talking together about tough stuff, and then researching, thinking and collaborating with the goal to prevent and heal developmental trauma and toxic stress.

Talking leads to knowledge.

Also in Canada, Tanya Talaga, an author and the 2017-18 Atkinson Fellow in Public Policy, was asked to give the CBC Massey Lecture series in 2018.  She then wrote a very powerful book All Our Relations based on the lecture series about the impact of colonization on indigenous people in Canada, and elsewhere in the world. The trauma that indigenous families and communities have endured over generations of colonization, residential schools, the Sixties scoop and other government policies in Canada is pervasive and widely misunderstood.  She flagged the current overrepresentation of indigenous children in the child welfare system.  In her research, she links this trauma to the tragic issues that exist in indigenous communities today: youth and adult suicide, addictions and poverty. Her book raises the lack of many of the basic social determinants of health – clean water, secure housing, food security, electricity -- that many indigenous communities still face today.  She asks us all to do better.

Talking gives us a way forward.

Last spring the first Child Mental Health “Hackathon” and “Datathon” was held in Toronto organized by Blockchain Learning Group and TMX. 10 professionals in the field presented brief remarks about child and youth mental health challenges to a group of about 100 technology experts. Teams were formed and after a long weekend of hard work and collaboration, some great ideas for technology-based solutions were developed and judged. The next Hackathon and Datathon will be held in April 2019.

Talking leads to innovation.

And, just over a year ago, the ACO convened the Developmental Trauma Action Alliance (the “DTAA”), a multi-sector collaborative formed to improve the long-term outcomes and overall wellbeing of children, youth and adults who have experienced developmental, or early life, trauma.  Over 40 individuals and agencies from across the province and elsewhere have come together to collaborate on this important initiative. Agencies involved include George Hull Centre, Hincks/Sick Kids, the Infant Mental Health Promotion, Mount Sinai Hospital, CAMH, University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, the Adoption Council of Canada, Native Child & Family, Jewish Child & Family, and Children Aid Societies in Ottawa, Toronto Catholic, Thunder Bay, and Windsor, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, Open Doors for Lanark Children & Youth, and Deloitte, and many private practitioners, parents and people with lived experience. Thanks to Ontario Trillium Foundation funding, the DTAA was able to launch a Healing Childhood Trauma Together campaign, and held 10 Roundtables in 8 cities across the province and 2 virtually through Zoom. Over 250 people – professionals from across sectors, parents, and people with lived experience - came to listen, share and discuss these issues. There is great momentum to move this work and conversation forward.

Talking can bring us together.

Each of these important initiatives is the result of people talking together about tough stuff, and then researching, thinking and collaborating with the goal to prevent and heal developmental trauma and toxic stress. Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign and its intent to get people talking about mental health, inspires me and gives me confidence that these initiatives are being embraced by so many passionate and committed people - many of whom have been touched by these issues in some way. Together, we are leading the way, on a very challenging, yet ultimately very human issue, which touches many families and many communities across the province and the country.

Let’s keep talking - together.

Talking has power – the power to do better for kids and families.

Let’s Talk

#BellLetsTalk #Adoption

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