The Oklahoman: Oklahomans gather to discuss responding to childhood trauma

By Ben Felder
Published: March 10, 2018


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OKLAHOMA CITY – Leaders with the Potts Family Foundation hope Oklahoma can increase its collaborative focus on preventing and healing early childhood trauma.

A crowd of more than 500 this week at a summit on the topic indicates growing interest.

“We need to help people see that they are not alone, they are more than the shame they feel, and they can create new patterns,” said Doctor Robert Anda, speaking at Wednesday’s Raising Resilient Oklahomans! Summit in Edmond, which was hosted by the Potts Family Foundation.

The summit began with a showing of the documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope.” Anda followed the film with a presentation on how adverse childhood experiences and childhood trauma can harm future physical development and health.

Oklahoma has some of the highest rates of young children with adverse experiences, such as domestic violence, sexual assault and poverty.

Educators, nonprofit leaders and other community leaders gathered for the daylong conference, which explored how Oklahoma can adopt a more trauma-sensitive lens in its schools, legal system and child advocacy organizations.

Susan Craig, who has studied the relationship between family violence and early learning, called the high prevalence of unresolved trauma among the school-aged population a “public health epidemic that threatens children’s academic and social mastery.” Craig said teachers play a crucial role in helping students who have experienced severe trauma, often serving as an adult who demonstrates compassion and care.

“It’s not the (traumatic) event as much as it is whether the event occurs in isolation or in a community of caring adults who can restore safety in the life of a child,” Craig said. “Teachers have one of the greatest abilities to help rebuild a child’s capacity to be able to attach.” Craig also discussed how trauma does not just cause mental health problems, but can cause cognitive development issues, such as limited self regulation and memory loss. “Children with trauma history are so focused on whether or not people like them or not, because their safety depends on it and they are used to being with caregivers that change by the minute,” said Craig, who added that focus can cause students to take their attention away from teacher lesson plans and instructions.

Researchers of adverse childhood experiences have also created a 10-question ACEs quiz, which indicates the level of trauma in a person’s life. Answering yes to any of the questions, which cover exposure to domestic violence, poverty or other adverse experiences, drives up the score. The higher the score, the higher a person’s risk for health problems, Anda’s research has found.

“The greatest potential for change lies with the engagement of people affected by ACEs and the healing they experience and pass on to generations to come,” Anda said.

Wednesday’s summit was just an example of the growing focus child advocates are paying to childhood trauma and it’s future impact. This Sunday, the CBS program “60 Minutes” is airing a segment on how Milwaukee is using a more trauma-informed response.

“If you have developmental trauma, the truth is you’re going to be at risk for almost any kind of physical health, mental health, social health problem that you can think of,” said Bruce Perry, speaking on the program.