Children who grow up in a difficult home environment, enduring pain associated with domestic violence or economic hardship, are at an increased risk for developing problems with substance abuse and various health problems.
Childhood adversity, says a study published recently in JAMA, can carry consequences across to following generations. Examples of childhood adversity can include verbal or physical abuse, a family member with a serious mental disorder, or poverty. The impact of these situations can be a higher likelihood of smoking, obesity, depression, cardiovascular disease, substance abuse and various mental health conditions.
The risks carried with childhood adversity are important to examine because each is associated with premature death.
There Is Hope
The researchers note that stressful experiences in childhood can alter the child’s stress responsivity, which may be connected to the negative outcomes listed above. However, the researchers say that the study also carries hope.
Co-authors David A. Brent, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Michael Silverstein, M.D., M.P.H. of the Boston University School of Medicine, explain that attending to children who are experiencing childhood adversity can significantly impact the outcomes.
Those children who are recognized early as being in a difficult home environment can receive help that not only helps them deal with the adversity, but may also get to the root of a problem.
A child who is living with a parent who is severely depressed, for instance, may be identified by an in-home screener, who can provide referrals for help and assist in seeking appropriate care. The child could experience important functional and symptomatic improvements.
There are also economic interventions, say the authors, which can link parents with opportunities for local employment and move the family out of poverty. This intervention can be important for reducing the risk of behavioral disorders in the children of that family.
In some cases, working to place a child in foster care at an earlier age can help reverse the negative cognitive and neurobiological problems that are associated with deprivation experienced in infancy.
The authors note that screening is crucial to getting help for the children most at-risk. Physicians may require training to understand the risks associated with childhood adversity and the signs they can watch for, as well as the steps required to begin addressing the problem.
The findings support the use of early screening, referral and monitoring to offset the effects of childhood adversity. Identifying these children early can help prevent the negative effects that can spread into following generations.
Take Advantage Of Available Social Programs
In addition, physicians should be champions of the social programs that can help screen and identify needs within a family. For instance, the benefits of a home visitation program that identifies at-risk families can have long-term effects on both mental and physical health, particularly when the child is still an infant.