As the next school year begins, a new study has identified the impact that early trauma has on a child’s education and prospects for good future health.
Published in the journal BMC Public Health, the study talked to adults in Wales about their exposure to childhood maltreatment and other early traumas such as domestic violence in the household where they grew up. The traumas are collectively known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
Report author Professor Mark Bellis of Bangor University and Public Health Wales said: “We have already shown how childhood trauma can lead to poor health as adults, but this research shows how children suffering more ACEs also experience poorer health as children and higher levels of common health problems such as headaches, asthma and digestives problems.
“Such conditions are typically not life threatening, but can still have major impacts on children’s physical, social and educational development. Critically, we found children with high levels of childhood adversity were seven times more likely to be absent from school more than 20 days a year.”
Overall compared to individuals with no ACEs in their childhood those with four or more ACEs were:
- Seven times more likely to report frequent school absenteeism
- five times more likely to report poor childhood health
- four times more likely to have had childhood digestive problems
- three times more likely to have had childhood headaches
- three times more likely to have had childhood asthma
- twice as likely to have had childhood allergies
The study also identified elements in childhood that help protect children from these harmful outcomes, even if they are exposed to ACEs.
Professor Karen Hughes from Public Health Wales said: “60% of people who suffered multiple ACEs but did not have assets such as supportive friends and role models reported poor childhood health. However, in those who suffered multiple ACEs but did have such support this dropped to 21%.”
The positive influences that friends, trusted adults, communities and schools provide to children builds resilience and the ability to overcome severe hardships like those presented by ACEs. As well as better overall childhood health, individuals with access to more sources of resilience were less likely to report frequent school absenteeism, headaches and digestive problems.
Concludes Professor Bellis (pictured): “Children often experience a complex interaction of trauma from adverse experiences and resilience from the positive support and opportunities that communities offer. We are working with organisations across Wales to deliver practical advice on how to eradicate childhood trauma wherever possible and how to build community assets that provide resilience – especially for those children in most need. Success should result not only in happier children set on a healthier life course, but also better educational attainment and consequently a more positive economic outlook for future generations.”
Picture (c) Alcohol Research.