URBANA – Exposure to severe, chronic stress affects children’s growth and development. But while some children seem to be damaged by early adversity, others are able to thrive.
Following a screening of the film “Broken Places” on WILL-TV on Monday, Illinois Newsroom spoke with a panel of local experts about how supportive relationships early in life can minimize long-term consequences of early childhood adversity and how breaking cycles of trauma requires the collective action of entire communities.
“Nurturing, consistent relationships can help, but if you think about what creates an environment for those relationships, there are a lot of structural supports, like having access to food, a safe neighborhood, having people around you… (that) make a difference,” said Karen Simms, licensed therapist and director of the CU Trauma and Resiliency Initiative.
Panelists discussed how recent issues — including the COVID-19 pandemic and unrest over police brutality against Black men and women — contribute to the trauma experienced by communities of color.
“We know that stress reduces your immune system, which makes you more vulnerable to COVID. And living in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe because of either implicit bias or racism or community violence makes you more vulnerable to diseases,” Simms said. “Until we address structural inequities, we will always have adverse outcomes. And if we respond to just the symptoms and not the roots, we will always be firefighting.”
Simms and other panelists explained what’s being done in Champaign County to address early childhood trauma and promote healing, and discussed an “an all hands on deck” approach is needed to build resilient individuals, families and communities.
- Karen Simms, licensed therapist and the director of the CU Trauma and Resiliency Initiative.
- Dr. Malcolm Hill, retired pediatrician at Carle hospital and CU Trauma and Resiliency Initiative board member.
- Katina Wilcher, director of student, family and community engagement at Champaign Unit 4 School District.
- Michael Trout, director of the Infant Parent Institute.
Watch the full recording of the discussion online.
Christine Herman is a reporter for Illinois Newsroom. Follow her on Twitter: @CTHerman