Roundup: Public secrecy about child abuse argued in New York, Kentucky; adult brains show damage from child trauma

Many people think that secrecy surrounding child abuse, government or otherwise, creates a system that has done little to prevent harm. Issues of government secrecy are being challenged today before New York State’s Court of Appeals where attorney Michael Lesher is presenting his case to release, under the Freedom of Information Act, files that may shed more light on child abuse in fervently Jewish Orthodox communities. The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University provides a good backgrounder in “Public Secrecy About Child Abuse“.

And, in Kentucky, where a state judge recently ordered the governor’s office to turn over records about child abuse deaths and near-deaths to news organizations, Gov. David Beshear wrote an op-ed about the issue last month — “State protecting those who report child abuse” — that was published on Last week a Kentucky judge wrote an op-ed about the issue — “Judge: State lawyers wrong; openness best way to protect abused“. On Monday, the news organization’s editorial board responded with Beshears’ chance to end culture of secrecy. reporter Bill Estep provides background with Judge criticizes Beshear for fighting release of child abuse death records.

In another ground-breaking study about the long-term effects of child trauma, Harvard University’s Martin Teicher and his colleagues found that the brains of people who experienced childhood trauma were smaller in key areas that control emotions and  memory, areas that are vulnerable to the effects of stress hormones. Teicher and his colleagues, Carl Anderson and Ann Polcari, examined the brains of 193 people between the ages of 18-25. They determined their ACE Scores using the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experience Study then did MRI scans. Those with high scores showed the most decrease in brain volume.

The most thorough coverage of the study was by Elizabeth Lopatto on Bloomberg News:

“What’s really going on is these changes are a consequence of childhood abuse,” said Teicher, who is also affiliated with McLean Hospital. It is part of an accumulating body of evidence that shows there are physical effects from being raised in an abusive household.

Drugs such as antidepressants and anticonvulsants, and lifestyle changes including vigorous exercise, prompt the formation of new neurons, Teicher said. The new neurons may blunt the effects of abuse and decrease the risk of adult illnesses including depression and anxiety.

Information about the research also appeared in New Scientist and on the Los Angeles Times Booster Shots health blog. You can find the abstract – Childhood maltreatment is associated with reduced volume in the hippocampal subfields CA3, dentate gyrus, and subiculum — on the Proceedings of National Academies web site, where you can also access the full text for free.

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