The American Academy of Pediatrics came out with the warning that toxic stress causes permanent damage in children. This is not a flippant, easily dismissed study. After two decades of research, this premier association of pediatricians came up with scientific evidence that stress is the biggest peril children are facing today as reported in the New York Times.
What is toxic stress?
The toxic stress they are talking about arises in homes where parents abuse drugs or alcohol, where children see or experience abuse or neglect. For example, those who are chronically neglected are not cuddled when they cry. The stress rises up when a child senses threats without anyone to protect them. Most interesting is that the stress hormones can erupt even before birth. Hostile or indifferent environments can disrupt the formation of fetus's brain and metabolism, permanently undermining their potential.
Lifelong damageThe study concluded that as these children grow into adulthood they are more likely to suffer from physical ailments such as heart disease, diabetes and even obesity. They also often have short tempers and will most likely struggle in school due to impaired brain development.
What does this mean for foster childrenAs a foster parent; I was very saddened at this news. Basically children who enter the system, and there are more than half a million of them, will never completely reach their potential due to the stress they most likely endured. Harvard pediatrician, Jack P.Shonkoff said, "You can modify behavior later, but you can't rewire disrupted brain circuits."
Don't give upThis may explain the reason many grown foster children repeat the cycle. Even with intervention in childhood, the initial damage was sustained early on, possibly even before birth. This damage creates learning difficulties that are biologically embedded. This is not to imply that caring for foster children is a winless battle. Children can be positively affected by good parenting and safe homes.
Reach outWhat this study reveals is that the most important, cost-effective window to affect change occurs in the earliest part of life, even before birth. "Protecting young children from adversity is a promising, science-based strategy to address many of the most persistent and costly problems facing contemporary society, including limited educational achievement, diminished economic productivity, criminality, and disparities in health," the pediatrics academy said in its policy statement.
Ultimately, if society wants to improve health, reach educational standards and chip away at poverty, it is important to show the utmost care to our youngest inhabitants.