*Photo credit: 60 Minutes
In the United States, an epidemic has been sweeping across the nation, being passed down from generation to generation and contributing to some of the worst health and social problems in society. Milwaukee, Wisconsin is one of the poorest cities in the nation, and when a local newspaper ran a series about the city’s haunting prevalence of childhood trauma, a former resident and well-known public figure decided to investigate further with a 60 Minutes report called Treating Childhood Trauma.
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Oprah Winfrey grew up in Milwaukee, and her childhood was full of traumatic experiences. Her family was poor and received welfare benefits. Oprah also endured years of sexual abuse. Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist and a leading expert on childhood trauma, says that negative experiences such as these are what derail childhood development and wire a child’s brain differently, increasing the risk for physical, mental, social and behavioral health problems.
The idea that childhood trauma is a predictor of later-life health and wellbeing is not a theory; it is a proven scientific fact. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study was the largest investigation conducted that revealed this link. Participants answered 10 questions about their childhood and current health and behaviors to determine their score. The higher the ACE score, the higher the risk for problems. You can take this test to find your ACE score.
The ACE Study has driven many organizations, schools and communities to integrate trauma-informed care into their programs and treatment systems. This revolutionary approach has changed the fundamental question from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?” According to Perry, “it is crucial to understand what has happened to traumatized children before trying to ‘fix’ their behavior.”
Overcoming childhood trauma and living a healthy, successful life is entirely possible. The key is to ensure children have positive adults in their lives who can buffer those negative experiences. For Oprah, her school teachers provided the love and connection she needed to feel valued.
This report on treating childhood trauma has been so life-changing for Oprah that she has changed the way she interacts with people and operates her business and school. She even claims that this is the most impactful story she has ever reported on. Treating and preventing childhood trauma should be a top priority to address the many major public health issues in the U.S., and we all play a role in ensuring all children develop healthy brains and have positive connections with adults.
Click to watch Oprah’s 60 Minutes report Treating Childhood Trauma and find out what KVC is doing to treat and prevent childhood trauma and ensure all children have the opportunity to build a healthy brain at www.kvc.org/brain.