Toxic Childhood Stress and Trauma

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Childhood experiences, positive or negative, can have a major impact on long-term growth and development, and health. Negative or adverse childhood experiences can contribute to chronic disease, including mental and emotional conditions, in adulthood. These negative experiences are often referred to as toxic stress or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Studies demonstrated that traumatic or stressful experiences such as abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, parental substance use disorder and/or mental illness, divorce, and economic hardship lay down a common pathway to social, emotional, and cognitive impairments. This, in turn, can lead to increased risk of unhealthy behaviors, re-victimization and violence, disease, disability and premature death. The impacts of these experiences are cumulative – the more adverse experiences an individual undergoes, the higher the risk and incidence are for health and social problems in adulthood.

Preventing Adverse childhood experiences 

In recent years, Vermont has turned its attention to the prevention of toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, as well as strengthening protective factors that build resilience in individuals and families. To do this, we focus on the follow key areas of work:

  • We offer voluntary home visits for pregnant and postpartum families, which has long been proven as an effective strategy to prevent adverse childhood experiences.
  • Key Vermont policy makers have formed a team supported by the Aspen Institute and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health in All Policies initiative. The team’s goal is to improve health by preventing ACEs and by providing timely support to families.
  • We participate on the Agency of Human Services Child and Family Trauma Work Group, which aims to ensure that statewide programming and policies that support children and families who have experienced trauma are supportive and effective. The Work Group brings trauma-specific best practices to practitioners and provides resources on preventing trauma to the system of care in Vermont.
  • We work with many partners including representatives from the Agency of Human Services, schools, medical practices, early childhood education and social service organizations to address ACEs at the local level.
  • We promote the Strengthening Families framework, a research-informed approach to increase family strengths, enhance child development and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.

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