Traumatic or highly stressful childhood experiences are known to have lifelong emotional – behavioural and physiological impacts.
Children who are abused – neglected – or exposed to conflict – violence and horror – are far more likely to have drink and drug problems – criminal records and perhaps resort to violence and abuse themselves.
But researchers have also found that interventions such as the ABC programme can significantly buffer the damaging effects of stress and trauma – even at a biological level.
A growing number of advocacy and public health organisations are working to bring ‘trauma-informed’ approaches into the mainstream for doctors – carers and first responders.
The crucial role of caring and calming adults.
Scientists are continuing to untangle the complex biological effects of childhood trauma on the brain and body.
Research in the past decade points to ‘toxic stress’ as the root of the connection between adverse childhood experiences (Aces) and health problems in adult life.
The theory is that continuous or repetitive exposure to stressful situations through say – domestic abuse or growing up in poverty causes the body’s natural fight-or-flight stress response to stay switched on.
Researchers say that without the influence of a caring and calming adult the stress becomes ‘toxic’ and elevated cortisol levels change the functioning of the child’s brain – weakening the immune system and even altering the way a child’s DNA is ‘read and transcribed’.