As a mother, grandmother and community advocate for children and families, I feel that we all have a role to play in supporting a healthy community in which we live, work and raise our children. We have an obligation to support children and families that experience or have survived trauma in their lives.
This April—which is national Child Abuse Prevention Month—I urge everyone to practice understanding that two-thirds of us have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience in our lifetime. The consequences of a child living in a state of elevated anxiety over time results in physical and mental disorders that affect long term health outcomes. This includes children living with an alcoholic parent, children who experience racism, bullying, witness violence in the home or in their neighborhood or endure physical or sexual abuse. These events will have lifelong effects on their physical as well as mental health.
We know from research that stress causes developmental changes in a child’s brain. The Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study links childhood trauma to chronic health problems later in life. Over sixty percent of us have had at least one Adverse Childhood Experience, and a child experiencing four or more will have lifelong issues related to that trauma.
But we also know children are resilient. During the month of April, let us pledge to be more patient, introspective and tolerant. We can look around us in our homes, workplace and community and become more trauma informed. We are all products of our upbringing, so before we speak or react to a behavior or question someone’s motivation, we should think of them as a child and practice individualized consideration.
We are all fortunate to live in Hillsborough County, a resource-rich community that is home to seven Children’s Board Family Resource Centers that provide an array of services that support healthier families while individually creating more cohesive communities. You can help a family by promoting those informal supports that are necessary to keep vulnerable families out of the larger systems of care. Hillsborough County has programming that can benefit every family while creating value and opportunity in our community for all children. Your support of a vulnerable child or family will literally lead to a healthier and stronger community with a decrease in chronic health issues, improved economic health, fewer social health and mental health issues.
It is important for us to be deliberate in the development of empathy and compassion in our children and it should not stop there. We all have a social responsibility and should be charged with defending those values that serve as the foundation of our community. Make a plan for April and support your community by giving back in some large or small way. As we move into spring, make it a season of change for a child and family that may be experiencing critical hurdles in their life. Be the champion that fosters that resilience and creates the opportunity for transformation.
What can you do to support our community and foster the resilience of children and families?
Here are four ways YOU can help:
- Take a family to a Resource Center (see the Children’s Board Family Guide), introduce them to developmental play groups and allow them the opportunity to see healthy child/caregiver roles modeled. The Early Childhood Council provides developmental screenings and mobile vision, hearing and wellness screens across the county. Healthy Families offers wrap-around services during and after pregnancy with flexible hours to work around busy schedules. Learn and Play Tampa Bay provides play groups for pre-kindergarten children to ensure they are ready to enter school.
- Consider becoming a foster parent. If you do not have the time to support that role, consider championing a foster family through organizations like Florida 1.27 that wrap supports around foster families by easing the stress of integrating a traumatized child into one’s household. They provide meals, respite and general support so vulnerable children can grow up in a “family” and be supported as a “family.”
- Mentor a troubled child. Lead by example—it only takes one caring adult to change the trajectory of a child’s life. Self-regulation is difficult for children exposed to adverse experiences and is a skill that if learned early, is vital to minimizing maladaptive behaviors. Be the positive reinforcer who creates that base.
- Tutor a child in your spare time. We know the importance of children being ready to enter kindergarten and being able to read proficiently by third grade. Volunteer at an early learning program lending support to both the child and the teacher, playing a role in creating a foundation for that child that lasts a lifetime.
Originally published in our April 2020 issue.