Franciscan Health sponsored a forum held on June 3 at Key Peninsula Middle School for youth exposed to trauma. Jody McVittie, MD, presented a program for teachers, administrators, parents, and others to help them understand and intervene with troubled youth.

“The Key Peninsula was identified as having a high rate of suspensions and expulsions, which is a good indicator of trauma and dysfunction,” said Doug Baxter, the Violence Prevention Coordinator for Franciscan Health Systems.

The recent Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study conducted by Kaiser Permanente revealed that a powerful relationship exists between our emotional experiences as children and our physical and mental health as adults, including mortality. Organic disease can develop from “mere” emotional experiences. This is counterintuitive, and a revolutionary change in the theory of how disease develops.

The ACE study makes it clear that “Time does not heal old wounds.” even after 50 years. Adverse experiences in childhood create a lot of dysfunction in middle-aged Americans. Early intervention can save innocent lives and our very social fabric.

According to the study, major childhood trauma include recurrent physical abuse; recurrent emotional abuse; household member in prison; mother treated violently; family member an alcoholic or drug user; family member chronically depressed, mentally ill, or suicidal; and where one biological parent was lost regardless of cause. The study found that a bit more than half of those participating in the survey experienced one or more of these stressors, one in four experienced two, and one in 16 experienced four.

McVittie used an example of a 2-year-old who was very disruptive, did not know how to play, or understand what rules or respect were. Discipline made the problem worse. The child did not understand that she was doing anything wrong. All it took was some time to explain the concepts to the child in a manner that the child could understand, she said.

Without that early intervention, the dysfunction multiplies with frequent devastating results as the person ages.

“The problem is often times generational, with dysfunction being handed down from parent to child to grandchild, et cetera,” said McVittie. Thirty to 40 percent of our population are insecurely attached, not supported, a loose compass.”

By learning how to identify childhood trauma, and knowledge of the “different” methods required for intervention, McVittie and Baxter are hoping to see a 20-percent reduction in suspensions and expulsions in the Key Peninsula-area schools by 2015.

Critiques from the 60 attendees were all raves.

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