According to a leading group of children’s advocates, it’s not enough to just study the impact of childhood trauma and how we can lessen its toll on children and adults later in life.
Armed with new data, researchers from Center for the Study of Social Policy, Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, Prevent Child Abuse America, Casey Family Programs and the Montana Institute say that positive childhood experiences are more important than we think.
By now, the link between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and poor health outcomes later in life have become well established and the focus of efforts to change policy and practice. In an effort to measure the impact of childhood trauma, 32 states and the District of Columbia now conduct surveys that include questions about ACEs.
But in the push to help foster the social and emotional development of children with many adverse experiences early in life, a new report says that the answer is not just focusing on ACEs alone. More attention should be paid to understanding health outcomes of positive experience (HOPE) — positive interactions and relationships that children and families experience in midst of trauma.
In Balancing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) With HOPE, authors highlighted newly available data from four recent population surveys to support the need to further study the impact of strong family connections and friendships on children who are struggling with adversity.
The authors of the report make the case that research around how toxic stress and ACEs affect children and families should not be ignored, but more attention should be paid to how positive interactions and healthy relationships can help guide brain development and improve executive-function capabilities.
“Positive experiences are critical for brain development and a strong brain architecture, [and] we now have data that shows that they can actually buffer some of the negative effects of experiencing adverse behaviors,” said Jennifer Jones, a co-author of the report and the director of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities’ Change in Mind Initiative. “We need to become more consistent and unified about focusing on resiliency factors, investing in research and identifying common outcome measures that we can rally around.”
The report uses data gathered from the National Survey of Children’s Health, Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Survey, YouGov surveys on parenting practices and surveys on child maltreatment conducted by Prevent Child Abuse America and the Montana Institute. The datasets examine how childhood resilience mitigates the effects of adversity, how parenting strategies support child development and how protective factors shape lifelong health outcomes.
The authors suggest five recommendations for helping integrate positive relationships and experiences into policy and practice, including developing a common framework around HOPE factors and advocating for policies like paid family leave that could have significant implications for supporting healthy child development.
Read the full report here.