Substance abuse, delinquency, domestic violence, obesity, smoking, poor health, criminal offenses, child welfare issues and mental health problems.

All have been shown by studies to be more likely in those who faced a traumatic event or toxic stress as a child, according to the Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy at Florida State University.

“Frequent or continual stress on young children who lack adequate protection and support from adults is strongly associated with increases in the risks of lifelong health and social problems,” according to the center.

To raise awareness of childhood trauma and the negative impacts it has on communities as well as develop strategies for addressing the problem, multiple High Country organizations are involved in organizing the State of the Child Forum on Friday, May 5, 2017, at Boone United Methodist Church in Boone.

The community impact event seeks to bring together all sectors of the community, including the medical community, the behavioral health system, law enforcement, media, politicians, juvenile justice, the school system, the Department of Social Services, Appalachian State University, the faith community and other key stakeholders.

“Our goal is to enact long-term change so that services for children in Watauga County are more effective,” said Denise Presnell, a school social worker who is organizing the forum.

Trauma is defined as an event that is unpredictable, produces a feeling of helplessness and overwhelms one’s capacity to cope. It can be a single event, a connected series of events or chronic lasting stress. Examples are natural disasters, domestic violence, school shootings, terrorist attacks, sudden or violent loss of a loved one, divorce, serious accidents, physical or emotional abuse or neglect, sexual assault and incarceration of a family member.

Researchers have shown that childhood trauma can damage brain neurons and affect the prefrontal cortex, an essential part of the brain for self-regulation.

“As a result, children in stressful environments find it harder to concentrate, sit still, follow directions or learn,” the center stated.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network found that one in four school children have been exposed to a traumatic event. Other research shows that 90 percent of children known to the foster care system have been exposed to trauma.

Strategies for addressing childhood trauma and preventing or mitigating its negative impacts include promoting understanding of trauma and toxic stress, identifying trauma through screening tools and utilizing trauma-trained therapists who can provided evidence-based supports and treatment.

Communities that engage in these strategies are known as trauma-informed communities.

In 2011, the state of Washington enacted a bill to identify and promote innovative strategies to prevent or reduce adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and to develop a public-private partnership to support effective strategies.

Buncombe County in North Carolina is another example of a community that has taken steps to build resilience and address childhood trauma, Presnell said.

Presnell hopes the forum will be the first step in making Watauga County a trauma-informed community.

“We want everybody from the community on the same foundation for trauma work, and we want to develop an action plan for moving forward,” Presnell said.

The morning of the forum will feature speakers and presenters, focusing on trauma effects, statewide and in our community, and trauma prevention, intervention and treatment. Lunch will be provided.

The afternoon will include mixed-group brainstorming sessions with trained facilitators. Closing the afternoon will be Tonier Cain, a globally known speaker with a focus on trauma-informed care.

Presnell said that plans are for a steering committee to be formed that will meet monthly following the forum.

Pre-registration is requested and will begin in February.

For more information or to request an invitation to the event, contact Presnell at 828-264-8481 or presnelld@watauga.k12.nc.us.

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