Childhood trauma: A path into poverty

A path into poverty (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - In the ongoing commitment to examining Cincinnati's childhood poverty crisis, Local 12 is taking a look at how toxic stress impacts overall success.

Studies show that Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) can lead to chronic health conditions and lifelong hardship. Examples of ACEs include neglect, abuse, going hungry, and exposure to violence.

"If a child grows up experiencing too much of this, it actually alters who they are biologically; changes how their brain develops," says Dr. Robert Shapiro, Director of the Mayerson Center for Safe & Healthy Children at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC).

There's a survey that helps an individual reflect on how many ACEs they experienced. Shapiro stresses that the survey isn't a diagnostic tool, but it can help individuals understand and reflect on past experiences.

Patrick Russell took the ACE survey and got a 10 out of 10. He grew up in Price Hill with his mother and six siblings.

"Throughout my life, it's kind of been a roller coaster of adversity and different situations that we've been in as far as addiction and things that my mom and her boyfriend and different people have dealt with at the time," says Russell.

He says he doesn't know where he'd be if it weren't for the relationship he developed with a mentor, Harry Blanton. The two met when Russell was nine years old.

"There was no real obvious signs. There were just little indicators and I really didn't know really, truly what was going on until his mom did lose custody," says Blanton. Russell spent some time in a foster home. Blanton showed Russell stability when he needed it the most. He also showed him another way of life. With the help of Blanton, Russell graduated from high school, college and is now working on his master's degree.

The relationship the two men share is an example of how Shapiro says it's possible to break the cycle of hardship.

"It's the presence of a safe, stable and nurturing environment which helps to bring that child's stress level down to a level that's not harmful."

Childhood trauma is a topic that's all too familiar to Dr. Victor Garcia, the man who created CCHMC's trauma program.

"What the evidence clearly shows irrefutably [is] that it's the neighborhood that is influencing; it's not nature of individuals, it's nurture," says Garcia.

He's working with advocates to bring training resources to neighborhoods that experience high levels of violence. The goal is to equip neighbors with tools to help process the trauma they witness.

"When a kid doesn't know how to read, we teach; when they don't know how to write, we teach; when there's some issues around this thing called trauma, we also need to teach," says Dr. Jonathan Futch, a manager at Cincinnati Public School's Jacobs Center. Futch is a champion for the cause and thinks it will help children cope with toxic stress.

The advocates are still working to secure funding to start training in the neighborhoods. They've applied for grants and are hoping to get some help from the state.

In October the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative is hosting its 2017 Dream Makers Celebrations at Music Hall featuring filmmaker Jamie Redford as the keynote speaker. His film, Resilience, examines how ACEs can wreak havoc on the brains and bodies of children and what can be done about it.

You can take the survey by following a link.

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