How to cope with adverse childhood experiences

By Resmiye Oral for the Iowa City Press-Citizen


Resmiye Oral

It has become clearer to the medical community over recent decades that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have a significant impact on child health and also adult physical, emotional, social and behavioral health. But what are adverse childhood experiences?

Healthcare professionals and others who work with abused and neglected children — and the adults they eventually become — define these experiences as any combination of family dysfunction (substance abuse, mental illness, criminal activity, parental separation/absence and domestic violence), child abuse (physical, sexual or emotional abuse), and child neglect (physical and emotional neglect).

In 2010, the Iowa Department of Public Health and a number of governmental and nongovernmental organizations began to investigate, on a statewide basis, the occurrence of adverse childhood experiences in Iowa. A research team analyzed the data from 2012, which revealed astounding results: Fifty-five percent of Iowans have experienced at least one type of ACE. In addition, 15 percent of the surveyed population reported four or more ACEs, which increase the risk of such things as smoking, lung disease, heart disease sexually transmitted infections, and obesity, and also perpetuate substance abuse, violence exposure and depression affecting generation after generation.

The University of Iowa Child Protection Program, which I direct, has a long tradition of dedication to acting in the best interest of all children locally, regionally and globally. We’re involved in multiple projects and multidisciplinary teams including the Iowa Perinatal Illicit Drug Screening and Intervention Program, the Iowa Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Program, the Drug Endangered Children Alliance, the Iowa Child Protection Council, the Turkish Child Protection Collaboration, as well as collaborations with the Portuguese Institute of Legal Medicine and other international teams.

We’ll be hosting the 2014 Provost’s Global Forum on “Child Protection: A Global Responsibility” in Iowa City Wednesday through Friday, with many programs and activities open to the public. For information on sessions and speakers, please visit http://international.uiowa.edu/research/child-protection.

Presentations and discussions will focus on how experiences that harm children’s social and behavioral functioning lead to physical and mental health issues in adulthood. We believe that recognition and management of ACEs will rule how medicine is practiced in the next decade and that, in order to tackle the huge burden of today’s adult ailments that cause so much unnecessary suffering and cost, we have to address ACEs as early in life as possible.

The WorldCanvass program at 5 p.m. Friday in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum will provide an excellent opportunity to see how child abuse and neglect, and the long-term effects of such experiences, are being addressed here in Iowa and internationally. The program is free and open to the public and you can find information on the guests and topics of discussion at http://bit.ly/1emQ1No.

I look forward to seeing you at some or all of these events.

Dr. Resmiye Oral, is a professor of pediatrics and the director of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Child Protection Program.

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