Why early experience matters: Videos of scientists teach you

Scholars know so much about the importance of early experience–you should too!

A 2010 symposium brought together anthropologists, clinical, developmental and neuro-scientists to discuss early experience in light of evolution and human development. This is necessarily an interdisciplinary area of study because we have to know our history as social mammals, what optimizes our development in our sensitive early years and what undermines the development of a cooperative human nature. The talks are available for free online. Here is a sampling of the speakers with links.

C. Sue Carter established the importance of oxytocin in social bonding, especially in early life.

Vincent Felitti, MD, was one of the authors of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Studies (ACES), showing that childhood emotional, physical abuse in the family, among other traumas, are related to greater illness and shorter lifespan.

Douglas Fry, anthropologist at the University of Alabama, reviewed data on societies, pointing out how small-band hunter-gatherers, representative 99% of human genus history, are a unique type of society that has no war (no hierarchy, no possessions). Childhood play is one way we learn self-restraint.

James McKenna’s (University of Notre Dame, Anthropology) research on mother-baby co-coordination during sleep has led more recently to the notion of breastsleeping, the natural state of human infants’ early life, optimizing development.

The late Jaak Panksepp was a pioneer in showing the similarities between humans and other social mammals in terms of emotion systems and their development. Animal studies can teach us a great deal about what humans need too.

James Prescott, formerly of the National Institutes for Mental Health, pointed out the relationship between early experience—particularly affection and breastfeeding—in producing peaceful people and societies.

Stephen Porges (University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill), integrating work with the vagus nerve, came up with polyvagal theory which identifies several different aspects of vagal nerve function. The most sophisticated requires warm responsive care.

Allan Schore (UCLA), the “American Bowlby,” continues to review the neurobiological studies of early life experience and its effects, showing that responsive mother care supports optimal brain development and secure attachment.

Stephen Suomi (NIH), one of Harry Harlow’s students, continues the work on the effects of early experience on brain and body development.

Wenda Trevathan studies the evolution of human birth and why human infants have to be so much more immature than other animals. She discusses perinatal experience and, for example, why adults hate to hear babies cry.

You can access the videos and the powerpoints of these and other speakers HERE.

The book that emerged from the conference, Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development, includes chapters from these speakers and others.

The fleeting childhood of U.S. border children

By Darlene Byrne, Judge, 126th Judicial District Court
The comments in this paper are solely the opinions of the writer and no other organization.  

As a judge in Texas who has presided over many hundreds of child abuse and neglect cases since 2003, I have seen firsthand what the trauma of removing a child from a parent can do to the child. The parent-child relationship is one of our most sacred and precious fundamental and constitutional rights, as recognized by many U.S. and Texas Supreme Court cases.

Sentencing innocent children at our U.S. borders, with instant removal from their parents with no notice, no warning, and no due process goes against the moral code of this nation. The events taking place at our southern border are no less traumatic for the affected children than cases in which a child is removed from their parents because of allegations of abuse and neglect.

However, unlike the process when the parent is charged with abuse or neglect, the forcible separation of families at the border occurs without due process or judicial oversight. For child abuse and neglect cases there are well developed federal and state laws, honed and refined over decades, to insure both the child and parents are provided with due process prior to any separation of children from their parents. There is immediate and ongoing judicial oversight of the investigation by child welfare professionals regarding removal of children.

The judge’s role is to asses whether the government has met the high burden required to justify removal of a child from the custody of the parent, governed by the mantra to Do No Harm to the child. Our laws seek to insure that children are not summarily stripped from their parent’s arms, and segregated in a holding cell or abandoned Walmart along with hundreds of other traumatized and removed children. But, if possible, placed with grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, or prior babysitters – people the child already knows and loves—or at least placed with a licensed foster parent with training in childcare and trauma. Even then, judicial oversight continues to encourage frequent visits and contacts with all but the most unfit parents within a very short time after removal.

As the chair of the Texas Statewide Collaboration on Trauma Informed Care, watching what is happening at my state’s border to these children is the antithesis of a trauma informed system of care and country. These policies ignore the mandate to do no harm to these children.

Although I am only one judge, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, of which I am a member and past president, has recently spoken against the separation of children and their families in the following resolution http://www.ncjfcj.org/Separation-Policy-Statement. Childhood is fleeting. Time is of the essence. These children should not and cannot wait for the contentious and laborious wholesale overhaul of our country’s immigration policy, which our Congress has been working on for years. By then, their childhood will be over and the lifetime damage will be done. If anyone deserves action and due process, it is the innocent children arriving at our borders today.

Study shows most pregnant women and their docs like ACEs screening

Would pregnant women participate in surveys from their doctors asking them about whether they had experienced trauma in their childhood? In surveying moms-to-be at two Northern California Kaiser sites, clinicians discovered that the women were receptive to filling out an adverse childhood experiences (ACE) survey, according to a study that was published earlier this year in the Journal of Women’s Health.

In fact, researchers found out that the vast majority of pregnant women — 91 percent of the 375 women— were “very or somewhat comfortable,” filling out the ACE survey. Even more, 93 percent, said that they were comfortable talking about the results with their doctors. The women were surveyed from March through June 2016 at Kaiser Permanente clinics in Antioch and Richmond, CA.

ACE refers to the groundbreaking CDC/Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study that tied 10 types of childhood trauma, including living with an alcoholic family member or experiencing verbal abuse from a parent, to a host of health consequences. (Got Your ACE Score?)

The higher the number of ACEs that people have, researchers learned, markedly increases their risk for poor health outcomes, as well as social and economic consequences. Having four ACEs, for example, nearly doubles a person’s risk for heart disease and cancer, raises the risk of attempted suicides by 1200 percent and alcoholism by 700 percent.

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