“Children who live in households where they are exposed to domestic violence grow up in constant fear, with a result that has a damaging impact on their neurochemistry,” Dr. Olson says. Research conducted by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician and founder of the Center for Youth Wellness based in San Francisco, has found that adverse childhood experiences (including CDV) have a direct and measurable negative effect on their health. Inspired by what noticed in her own pediatric practice ten years ago, Dr. Burke Harris has become known for her research into the link between “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACE’s) and harmful effects on health that continue into adulthood, as a result or “toxic stress.
In fact, young children exposed to domestic violence suffer the same kind of trauma similar to the PTSD experienced by military veterans – a trauma that research has found literally “rewires” their brain, with a destructive and lasting impact. Numerous studies have found that growing up in a household surrounded by domestic violence serves as a tragic “perfect storm,” producing a myriad of negative and disempowering emotions in young children.
In 2014, Dr. Burke Harris was one of the featured speakers at a TED Talk event in San Francisco called “TedMed.” Online, the video of her presentation – “How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime” – has been seen by approximately 3.5 million viewers.
Dr. Burke Harris’s book about her experience in this area, “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity,” was published in January of 2018. She said that while treating children in impoverished areas of San Francisco, she became curious about the fact that a number of children were literally falling short with respect to growth. Trained to treat her medical patients based on their symptoms, Dr. Burke Harris began to learn about the adverse childhood experiences of these children, and the link became increasingly clear.
According to Dr. Burke Harris, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) affect 34.8 million children and does not discriminate with respect to family income or heritage. These children, she says, are at higher risk for health, behavioral and learning problems. Exposure to ACE’s – including domestic violence the children’s home – can change their hormonal systems, immune systems and even their DNA.
With early detection and intervention, these children can be helped – and the risk of these medical conditions later in life can be mitigated. This knowledge is one reason why the Project Hope Bear community has the potential to make a huge difference in the lives of millions of children.