Niara Jones, 10, of Providence Christian School sings the national anthem Wednesday during the Children’s Summit of Merced County at Yosemite Church in Merced. Photo By ANDREW KUHN AKUHN@MERCEDSUNSTAR.COM
Where children grow up matters.
The environment to which people are exposed in their childhood plays a significant role in their adult life, according to health leaders who presented at the 12th annual Children’s Summit of Merced County.
Wednesday’s summit gathered local health and education leaders, as well as community members interested in learning more about how people can work together to improve the lives of children.
Keynote speaker Dr. Dayna Long, a pediatrician at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, discussed the importance of assessing all factors of health. Education, gender, income, culture and housing, for example, all have a direct relation to children’s health.
“When you see a person that’s had a rough life, they just look so much older than expected,” Long said.
This can be explained by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) study, an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente Health, which suggests that adults have physical manifestations of their childhood experiences, Long explained.
According to the study, traumatic events, which may include emotional, physical and sexual abuse or household dysfunction, can shorten a victim’s lifetime by up to 20 years. While the study has been around since the late 1990s, the information presented by Long was new to many at the summit – made clear by a show of hands.
More recent studies have revealed that, in California, two-thirds of adults have experienced at least one example of childhood trauma. According to Long, these experiences can translate into toxic stress.
Toxic stress is defined as prolonged, continuous stress that builds in the absence of protective relationships with parents or other family members who might provide comfort or understanding.
And childhood stress can change the brain architecture and alter hormonal systems, Long said, “so that you’re impulsive and fidgety.”
“Someone might say something to you, and you just snap at them,” Long said.
Toxic stress also could be a risk factor for poor quality of life such as homelessness and crime, and for chronic illnesses such as obesity, depression and heart disease.
The first step to addressing this issue is learning to identify it. Long suggested that health care providers and county health leaders begin by incorporating screening for trauma.
Also present at the summit was Jessica Mindnich, the director of research at Children Now, a national research and advocacy organization for children’s well-being. Mindnich presented data from the latest score card, in which information on education, health and well being is provided for each county.
The 2014-15 score card showed that 36 percent of children in Merced County live in poverty and only 44 percent of families can afford basic living expenses.
The data show that 93 percent of children in Merced County have health insurance for the entire year, slightly above the state’s average. “That means that 7 percent of kids don’t have insurance and are probably not up to date on immunizations,” Mindnich said.