Parents Defeat Toxic Stress!

poison sml

“Imagine if scientists discovered a toxic substance that increased the risks of cancer, diabetes and heart, lung and liver disease for millions of people. Something that also increased one’s risks for smoking, drug abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, domestic violence and depression — and simultaneously reduced the chances of succeeding in school, performing well on a job and maintaining stable relationships? It would be comparable to hazards like lead paint, tobacco smoke and mercury. We would do everything in our power to contain it and keep it far away from children. Right?”

Here are further excerpts from New York Times blog post “Protecting Children From Toxic Stress” by David Bornstein.  This excellent piece describes validated research on the effects of adverse childhood experiences, and a program (ChildFIRST) that successfully enables parents to prevent or defeat those effects, bringing and happiness to  their children and themselves.  The impact of stress and trauma on children has been getting a lot of attention. Here is good news on how to save people and society from those effects.

The Problem

  • “It’s been called “toxic stress.” For more than a decade, researchers have understood that frequent or continual stress on young children […] is strongly associated with increases in the risks of lifelong health and social problems”
  • But, it is both preventative and curable. “toxic stress is not a determinant, but a risk factor. And while prevention is best, it’s never too late to mitigate its effects.”

An Effective AntidoteDefender

  • Great News:  “children can be shielded from the most damaging effects of stress if their parents are taught how to respond appropriately.”  “Early relationships, where adults are responsive and attentive, are able to buffer the damaging effects on the brain and body,”
  • The results are tangible:  In one group of 100 families, school suspensions went down from happening in 25%  to 2% of the families.
  • How it works: “Child FIRST, […ed.] attributes its success to a number of factors. It is preventive, focusing on children under the age of 6. It works through teams, bringing a mental health professional into the home alongside a care coordinator who helps the family gain access to basic services.”
  • Similar to the program highlighted in one of our past posts, “the therapist does not present herself as the expert, but as a partner in seeking solutions together,”  “Many parents worry that something is basically wrong with them.” “And when they see the therapist believing in them and joining in their efforts to overcome problems, a different attitude gets established about themselves and their child.”*
  • Parents gain capabilities that help them in all parts of life.  “A big goal is to help parents develop “reflexive capacity” so they can respond with greater awareness about – and bring more wonder to – the meaning of their children’s behavior every day. Another is to help parents become more effective problem solvers – exercising their “executive functioning” capabilities”
  • Realism is not depressing:  “We can’t fix poverty but we can buffer the stresses.”
  • Success that is spreading!:  “Child FIRST has struck a chord. It has received invitations to bring its model to 24 states. Among high-risk families, the need is dramatic.

The Scale of The Issue and Potential Benefits

  • world in hand“But the science around toxic stress has much bigger implications.”
  • “With the growing knowledge about the effects of ACEs”  This new knowledge calls for a population-based public health response — like what was done for smoking, seatbelts and drunk driving,
  • The potential of this approach? “To my mind,” comments Robert Anda, “it’s the most important opportunity for the prevention of health and social problems and disease and disability that has ever been seen.

I highly recommend the article.

Let your local social service friends know about this program. Sure, we still need to focus on eliminating the causes of the stress (such a joblessness), but this looks like a great start at changing whole community dynamics through addressing the impact of stress!



* (My emphasis.)


Categories: All Posts, For Social Service Organizations, Poverty in the News

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2 replies »

  1. Many times I have stated myself that what is lacking in societal change is compassion from our fellow peers. Here, Robert Anda has applied just that. A support from and for others as a state of peer relationship rather than ‘expert treatment’ and it maneuvers through the process with compassion and genuine care as the primary motivation (aka what can be done to help?). Great job Robert Anda! This program brings tears of joy and further inspiration to continue on with what I feel is needed more than anything else in this world, more love for other people.

  2. You put it so well. People are motivated when they receive other people’s genuine goodwill, confidence and support. When that care comes with relevant, practical expertise, great things are possible. I am sure that you are having a big impact on those around you.

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