Educating the community, getting to the root of trauma

young child

FREDERICK, MD, January 10, 2020 – Many young children are exposed to traumatic life events, and almost half have experienced one more types of trauma. New research suggests these adverse childhood experiences, also referred to as ACEs, are the leading cause of adult morbidity and mortality.1

At the Mental Health Association of Frederick County, Child Care Choices is helping the community and child care providers recognize when a child has been exposed to these adverse experiences, explained Patty Morison, Child Care Choices Program Director.

It’s important to understand how to provide support in these circumstances, she said. If you can intervene early, you could potentially prevent these lasting, harmful effects.

An adverse childhood experience can range from emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, physical neglect, or, alcoholism in the home, witnessing domestic violence, to name a few, Morison explained. Information about the impact of ACEs first came about after a Kaiser Permanente study about 20 years ago, with two waves of data collection, she said. More than 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members from Southern California receiving physical exams completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences and current health status and behaviors. It has evolved over the years into the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences study, and is one of the largest studies of childhood abuse and neglect in relation to health and well-being in adulthood.

Serious childhood traumas can also result in toxic stress, she added, which has been known to impede on brain development. Ultimately, as toxic stress prohibits the brain from being able to develop in a healthy, positive way, this can impact the ability to self-regulate, leading to a number of issues such as behavioral problems.

“We’re trying to raise awareness about ACEs, and we are becoming a trauma-informed agency,” Morison said.

As part of these efforts, MHA has established a trauma-informed committee that reviews internal procedures; handbooks etc., to ensure these are trauma informed for both staff and clients… Upon request, MHA also offers screenings of the film “Resiliency,” which explores the Kaiser Permanente study and how toxic stress impacts children. To date, they have shown the film to nearly 1,000 members of the community. Additionally, Morison said, Child Care Choices hosts workshops and provides educational resources on how to screen for adverse childhood experiences. Childhood trauma was also the topic of MHA’s Legislative Breakfast this year, she noted, shining even more light on this issue.

What’s important to stress to child care providers, she said, is that one nurturing, stable adult can alleviate the impact of these adverse childhood experiences. Providing this information to the community will not only allow child care providers to be more informed, and understand how to mitigate these experiences, it will also have an impact on future generations.

For those who are interested in a screening of the film, “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope,” or who are interested in more information about ACEs, please contact Rebecca Layman at

1 US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention