Mindfulness protects adults from physical, mental health consequences of childhood abuse, neglect

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Fact #1: People who were abused and neglected when they were kids have poorer physical and mental health. The more types of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) – physical abuse, an alcoholic father, an abused mother, etc. – the higher the risk of heart disease, depression, diabetes, obesity, being violent or experiencing violence. Got an ACE score of 4 or more? Your risk of heart disease increases 200%. Your risk of suicide increases 1200%.

Fact #2: Mindfulness practices improve people’s physical and mental health.

Now, says Dr. Robert Whitaker, a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics and public health at Temple University, there’s one more important fact: People who are mindful are physically and mentally healthier, no matter what their ACE scores are.

This study, to be published in the October issue of Preventive Medicine, is the first to look at the relationship between ACEs, mindfulness and health. And it has implications for anyone, and especially those who take care of children– teachers, parents, coaches, healthcare and childcare workers.

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Dr. Robert Whitaker

Many people think of mindfulness as people sitting and saying “Ommmm.” There’s actually more to it, and it’s worth explaining. People who aren’t mindful don’t regulate their own emotions very well. Situations that trigger traumatic memories may cause a person to lose focus on what’s happening currently, and lead them to make snap judgments and have knee-jerk reactions of anger, frustration, or fear, which can further the spread stress and trauma. They may not even be conscious that they’re doing so. They also ruminate on situations they can’t control, and can’t let go.

Here’s what it’s like not to be mindful:

  • “My co-worker’s angry today. I must have done something wrong. She’s JUST like my mother: moody, angry, a screamer. Well, I’d better get my defenses up and give her a piece of my mind before she attacks me.”

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CA Senate unanimously approves ACEs reduction resolution

California Dome & Senate SealOn August 18, the California Senate unanimously approved Concurrent Resolution (ACR) No. 155 to encourage statewide policies to reduce children’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences. As reported on ACEs Too High, the resolution is modeled after a Wisconsin resolution that encourages state policy decision-making to consider the impact of early childhood adversity on the long-term health and well being of its citizens. Since the resolution does not require California Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, the Senate’s approval is the final step in the process.

The resolution echoes the language of a Wisconsin bill passed earlier this year—the state’s policies should “consider the principles of brain development, the intimate connection between mental and physical health, the concepts of toxic stress, adverse childhood experiences, buffering relationships, and the roles of early intervention and investment in children…”

New programs or mandates are not included in the resolutions, but both provide an important framework for state level decision-making that is informed by the findings of the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. The two state resolutions are natural extensions of already robust ACEs-related and trauma-informed programs and policies in those states.

The principal sponsor of the California resolution was Assembly Member Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) who spoke on behalf of the resolution on the Assembly floor and was joined by Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer, Sr. (D-Los Angeles). Bonta said that “sadly and tragically” almost every youth in the City of Oakland has been touched by violence and that life expectancy is negatively impacted by conditions in vulnerable communities. Jones-Sawyer said that conditions that result in urban PTSD are “unnoticed and unaddressed.”  To see these short speeches, click here http://calchannel.granicus.com…d=7&clip_id=2332 and scroll down to ACR 155. The video also shows the adding of 68 members as coauthors.

During the weeks after the Assembly passage and before the Senate action, advocates led by the Center for Youth Wellness built support for the resolution.  Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, was the floor

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Florida study confirms link between juvenile offenders, ACEs; rates much higher than CDC’s ACE Study

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Juvenile offenders in Florida have starkly higher rates of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) than the population as a whole, according to a study conducted by the state’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the University of Florida.

The study — The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) in the Lives of Juvenile Offenders — is the first in the U.S. to look at the extent of ACEs among youth offenders. In the 64,329 Florida juvenile offenders surveyed, only 2.8 percent reported no childhood adversity, compared with 34 percent from the original Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente, San Diego, in 1998 . The CDC’s groundbreaking epidemiological study discovered a link between childhood adversity and the adult onset of chronic disease , mental illness, violence and becoming a victim of violence.

The 10 adverse childhood experiences measured in the Florida research and the CDC’s ACE Study were: emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; emotional and physical neglect; and five types of family dysfunction: witnessing a mother being abused, household substance abuse, household mental illness, losing a parent to separation or divorce, and having an incarcerated household member.

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Half of the Florida juveniles reported four or more ACEs, compared with 13 percent of those in the CDC’s ACE Study. This is significant because, compared with people with zero ACEs, those with four ACEs are twice as likely to be smokers, 12 times more likely to attempt suicide, seven times

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Massachusetts “Safe and Supportive Schools” provisions signed into law, boosts trauma-informed school movement

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today signed into law provisions to create conditions for “safe and supportive schools” intended to improve education outcomes for children statewide, and giving momentum to the state’s trauma-informed schools movement. They were included in The Reduction of Gun Violence bill (No. 4376). This groundbreaking advance was achieved when advocates seized the opportunity to add behavioral health in the schools to the options under consideration as state officials searched for ways to strengthen one of the nation’s more restrictive gun laws in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, CT.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo saw the connection between reducing gun violence and school achievement and was instrumental in the bill’s passage. When the original sponsor of a Safe and Support Schools Act, Katherine Clark, left the state legislature for the U.S. House of Representatives, some advocates were concerned the void would not be filled. Their fears were assuaged when Rep. Ruth Balser of Newton and Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Boston became lead sponsors.

The schools act supporters were jubilant that the legislation they labored on for years was incorporated in the gun violence bill now signed into law, and expressed deep relief and excitement about the achievement. They also said the hard work of statewide implementation now begins.

The law requires the state education department to develop a framework for safe and supportive schools, first developed by a task force established by the legislature in 2008, that provides a foundation to help schools create a learning environment in which all students can flourish. The framework is based on a public health approach that includes fostering the emotional wellbeing of all students, preventive services and supports, and intensive services for those with significant needs.

Within the framework, schools are encouraged, but not mandated, to develop action plans that will be incorporated into the already required School Improvement Plans. The law also provides a self-assessment tool to help in the creation of the plans.

Under the leadership of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), a coalition of the Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School, the “Safe and Supportive Schools Coalition” was formed to move the legislation

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To prevent childhood trauma, pediatricians screen children and their parents…and sometimes, just parents…for childhood trauma

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Tabitha Lawson and her two happy children

When parents bring their four-month-olds to a well-baby checkup at the Children’s Clinic in Portland, OR, Drs. Teri Petersen, R.J. Gillespie and their 15 other partners ask the parents about their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

When parents bring a child who’s bouncing off the walls and having nightmares to the Bayview Child Health Center in San Francisco, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris doesn’t ask: “What’s wrong with this child?” Instead, she asks, “What happened to this child?” and calculates the child’s ACE score.

In rural northern Michigan, a teacher tells a parent that her “problem” child has ADHD and needs drugs. The parent brings the child to see Dr. Tina Marie Hahn, who experienced more childhood trauma than most people. Instead of writing a prescription, Hahn has a heart-to-heart conversation with the parent and the child about what’s happening in their lives that might be leading to the behavior, and figures out the child’s ACE score.

What’s an ACE score? Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood trauma.

Why is it important? Because childhood trauma can cause the adult onset of chronic disease (including cancer, heart disease and diabetes), mental illness, violence, becoming a victim of violence, divorce, broken bones, obesity, teen and unwanted pregnancies, and work absences.

The CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) measured 10 types of childhood adversity: sexual, physical and verbal abuse, and

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Failing schools or failing paradigm?

Roberto is an eight-year-old, former student in my second-grade class.  (All names are pseudonyms.)  In his short life, he’s experienced at least five major life traumas. One: his mother abandoned him when he was a baby. Two: he was placed in foster care with strangers. Three: he joined his father, but shortly after, Daddy was sent to prison. Four: Roberto moved again to live with Grandpop. Grandpop was ill and on house arrest, unable to leave his home, so Roberto was essentially under “house arrest” too, except for school. Roberto came to school, walked the perimeter of the classroom staring out windows, distracting other children. Sometimes, he just walked out of the classroom. His father was eventually released from prison and came to live with Grandpop, but Grandpop soon evicted Daddy after a fight with him. Five: Grandpop died.

Ashley, a bright and engaging nine-year-old, witnessed her stepfather break her stepbrother’s leg with a baseball bat last night. The police were called, invaded her home about 1 a.m., and took her stepfather away. This morning, she came to school as usual, but in a trance, unable to focus.

Jasmine responds much more aggressively. When she is off her medications, and her traumas are re-triggered, her tiny, wiry 45-pound frame can muscle a chair over her head. She screams and curses in guttural tones while heaving the chair at a classmate. She’s being raised by a hesitant uncle in place of her deceased parents.  Jasmine goes home to a darkened row-house, with ”illegal smoke” wafting out the front door that hangs wide open to the street.

Jamar’s been absent from school. After several suicide attempts, he’s at the Crisis Center. Jamar suffered brutal beatings from Mom’s boyfriend, who stuffed a sock in his mouth to muffle his screams. He will come back directly to my classroom from the Crisis Center, without the dedicated adult support he is due.

Ashley, Roberto, Jasmine and Jamar had at least eight other classmates with similar stories in our one classroom at the same time. These four real vignettes are hard to read. They’re tragic. Yet these kids are only a small portion of my class.  For the last 13 years, one-half to two-thirds of the students in my urban, public school classrooms have experienced similar lives.  These children are only four of the thousands across only one city: Philadelphia.

Theirs is not a deficit issue. They’re not “sick” or “bad” children; they’re injured.

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Research reveals new ways of understanding ADHD

AbrainsMore than 6.4 million U.S. children have received a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the prevalence of ADHD, researchers continue to search for answers about what causes the disorder, why it affects children differently, and how to best treat each individual case.

Related Story: How childhood trauma could be mistaken for ADHD

Three very different studies show the potential for scientific research to offer fresh insight into these unanswered questions.

  • The first study, published in a recent issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that the condition might be influenced by a child’s socioeconomic environment.
  • Meanwhile, in 2012, scientists looked at how parenting style affected behavior in children who possessed genotypes associated with ADHD. Their findings, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, revealed that negative parenting predicted inattention symptoms in certain children.
  • Finally, in the third study, which is currently unpublished, U.C. Berkeley researchers tracked and analyzed long-term outcomes for girls who were both diagnosed with ADHD and experienced severe abuse or neglect. The results indicate that experiencing ADHD and trauma may put some youth at an increased risk for eating disorders, depression and suicide later in life.

Study #1: Dr. Ginny Russell and her colleagues at the University of Exeter set out to better understand how a child’s socioeconomic standing might play a role in the development of ADHD. Russell firmly believes that ADHD is indeed a brain disorder with genetic underpinnings, but she also worries that it has been characterized as a “context-free condition.” Time and again, studies have shown that poor or disadvantaged children are more likely to have ADHD, and this fact struck Russell.

Some researchers have argued that this increased likelihood could be the result of reverse causality, or in other words, that the difficulty of parenting a child with behavioral problems might lead to economic hardship and divorce. In Russell’s study, which used data from a longitudinal study of more than 19,000 children in the United Kingdom, low-income families were more likely to have a child with ADHD – but that couldn’t be traced back to reverse causality. In fact, household income for families with an ADHD-diagnosed child didn’t decline over a period of several years compared to families without a diagnosis. Both sets of families had matching earnings at the start.

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