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Initiative underway to educate communities on impact of adverse childhood experiences on developing brains

Child advocates are launching a statewide initiative Wednesday to educate communities about the impact of trauma on developing brains and its correlation with poor health outcomes.

The Family Tree, a nonprofit that works to prevent childhood abuse and neglect, is helping to train professionals across sectors — from child care and the judicial system to churches and law enforcement — on the the effects on the body and brain of physical abuse, neglect, domestic violence and parents who are incarcerated or have substance abuse issues. The project kicks off with a reception in Cross Keys.

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The spotlight on Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, is based on a landmark study that designates the link as a public health crisis. The study, completed about 20 years ago, shows the connection between trauma and higher rates of heat disease, drug use, depression and overall life expectancy, among other health outcomes.

“We see the cyclical effects of childhood adversity in families we serve every day,” Patricia Cronin, who runs The Family Tree, said in a statement. “The ACE Study proves that child abuse and trauma negatively changes the developing brains of children and leads to a lifetime of social and emotional issues, poor health outcomes, and, ultimately, a shorter lifespan than children raised in safe and supportive environments.”

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Dr. Robert Anda, a childhood behavior expert and one of the authors of the ACE study, will lead the two-day training for 25 stakeholders. The goal is help people working in different professions find ways to address the trauma and limit its lifelong effects.

Maryland joins a handful of other states that have launched similar projects, including Minnesota, South Carolina and Washington.

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