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October 14, 2019

For kids facing trauma, volunteers can save their long term health

By Ileen Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces

Poverty, violence, homelessness, child abuse… there are so many ways our children can experience trauma!  And the impact of trauma is incontrovertible and more research every day shows us how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) cause lifelong mental and physical damage that can impact over a lifetime.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder what I can do, as one person, against such an onslaught of negative influences. This why a new study from Brigham Young University is so uplifting! Researchers discovered that positive childhood experiences—like having good neighbors, regular meals, or a caregiver you feel safe with—have the potential to negate harmful health effects caused by adverse childhood experiences. It is so great to know that the extra effort of putting ourselves a bit out of our comfort zone in the community as a volunteer, a teacher, friend or neighbor to a child who has experienced trauma can really make a difference.

This concept is not new.  Much has been written about the importance of what are called “protective factors” and how these seemingly small things can mitigate or eliminate risk in families and communities. Protective factors help parents to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress. The most well-documented of those protective factors are:

  • building social connections (like those referenced in this article),
  • teaching parents positive parenting and child development strategies,
  • providing concrete support in times of need (such as warm clothing, food and necessary supplies), and
  • helping children learn coping skills and competence in social and emotional situations

All these build the resilience that can mitigate the harmful effects of trauma. So, when you show up at a Bright Space or other organization preparing to work with a group of children, don’t be dismayed if you find yourself reading to just one child, because that opportunity may enable you to make a real connection and to have a positive, potentially life changing relationship with a child in crisis.