by Rush L. Russell, Executive Director
Sunday night’s 60 Minutes, March 11, was highlighted by an interview between Oprah Winfrey and one of the nation’s leading brain scientists, Dr. Bruce Perry. Their discussion focused on the emerging science that shows when children are exposed to traumatic stress during their childhood, it rewires their brain and dramatically increases that’s child’s likelihood to become a smoker, use drugs, experience mental health issues, chronic health problems, school, employment and marital problems and even suicide.
The major point of the interview was to emphasize that bad things happen to many children. With the new knowledge about early trauma and organization’s adopting a trauma-informed approach, outcomes for children can be improved; more children will be resilient in finding ways to overcome their early challenges and find a positive path forward.
It was an enlightening episode with Oprah Winfrey bringing the groundbreaking information from the Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACE) to millions of Americans and pointing out simple steps that every individual and every organization can take to help along the way.
But for Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, the show had one unfortunate omission: the fact that early childhood trauma can be prevented. While it’s energizing to learn of new tools we can use to help children after they’ve experienced trauma, it should be even more powerful to adopt approaches to prevent trauma from happening to children in the first place.
We simply can’t accept any implication that early childhood trauma is inevitable and there is nothing we can do about it. We know many of the causes – parents’ overwhelming, “toxic stress”, a lack of knowledge and support about healthy child development and effective parenting, use of alcohol and drugs that disrupts priorities and behavior, and mental health problems that affect family life.
At PCA-NJ, we adopt research-based approaches with proven results to prevent all forms of child maltreatment before it happens. Our initiatives include evidence-based programs like Healthy Families and Parents as Teachers Home Visitation programs. In NJ, these programs serve more than 7,000 families in all 21 counties of the state, each year; but there are many more who could benefit. We also know that having a healthy, nurturing relationship with one positive adult/caregiver is an important key.
It’s not an “either/or question”. We can all benefit from adopting trauma-informed practices in our work with children who have experienced trauma. But we also need to advocate for more investment to prevent trauma in the first place. The research is crystal clear: children who have safe, stable and nurturing childhoods have a much greater opportunity for a lifetime of happiness, success and good health. There’s a role for everyone to help make that happen. Please contact PCA-NJ for more information about our trainings and programs and consider making a donation to support our work.