‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’: Early Life Events that Can Damage our Adult Health
“Thanks to decades of neuroscience research on brain development, adversity and toxic stress, we now understand how a child who is exposed to violence, or neglect, or homelessness at an early age may develop behavioral and physical health problems later in life,” said Jane Lowe, Senior Adviser for Program Development at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). “We can now use this rapidly evolving knowledge to create real-world solutions.”
RWJF.org recently pulled together a collection of resources on “adverse childhood experiences”—how common they are and what they can mean for the adults those traumatized children become. The website includes an infographic that illustrates the subject:
NewPublicHealth has previously written about the importance of addressing and changing youth violence, so that these behaviors don’t become even more severe—and more damaging—while spreading from act to act and person to person. In a Q&A, Kristin Schubert, MPH and then-interim director of RWJF’s Public Health, spoke about the Foundation’s approach to the issue of violence prevention and strategies in the field that are working to create change.
“We know that the child who was abused is that much more likely to be a victim or perpetrator of bullying a few years down the line, and then is that much more likely to be a victim or perpetrator of dating violence a few years later in high school, and then is much more likely to be a part of more family violence later on. There’s no form of violence that stands alone,” she said. “It’s a multigenerational phenomenon that is passed down.
“This context is so essential—in considering why someone engages in violent behavior, it’s important to recognize that it’s not just the ‘bad apple,’ it’s not the person. It’s the behavior. As Gary Slutkin of CeaseFire says, ‘Violence is a learned behavior.’”
Schubert pointed to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which found that the more “adverse” events a child faces in their youth—from maltreatment to neglect to abuse to witnessing violence—the more likely they are to have health problems later in life. That includes hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
>>Read the full NewPublicHealth interview.
>>Read more about Adverse Childhood Experiences.