The ACE Study

February 27, 2013

How many Americans are informed about the ACE study? Not many.

The question in my mind is why. Why are we neglecting what is obviously so important and critical to our society’s well-being?

The ACE study came out of a weight loss study at Kaiser Permanente, originally in the 1980’s, led by Dr. Vincent Felitti. In conducting the weight loss study with a relatively large sample of patients, Dr. Felitti discovered that many of them could not keep on track psychologically in their weight loss goals, and that many of these individuals had adverse childhood experiences.

In posing to those involved in the study questions designed to elicit the number of adverse childhood experiences they suffered, Dr. Felitti and his colleague Robert Anda, found that the number of adverse childhood experiences a person suffered was directly proportional to the number of adult risk factors that person was undergoing, including mental health issues, addictions, physical illness and disease, shortened lifespan, incarceration, financial struggle, job loss, obesity, depression, among others.

The adverse childhood experiences considered as risk factors included parental domestic violence, parental incarceration, parental drug or alcohol abuse, divorce, child abuse, etc.

In finding that adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) led to adult risk factors, the researchers also found that the number of ACE’s was proportional to the number of adult risk factors. Said another way, the more childhood trauma an individual has undergone, the more likely he is to be susceptible to problems in adulthood, including even physical health risks.

Originally conducted in the 1980’s, this study still does not have widespread recognition in the general population. However, those working the field of child welfare are beginning to discuss it, spread the word, and work at ways to implement its revolutionary conclusions into treatment and prevention in communities.

It seems to me we need to speed up the dissemination of this information.

See the ACE Study’s website to learn more.

Children’s rights – the final frontier

February 9, 2013

While we have a way to go, we as a culture understand that it is important to protect the rights of women, racial minorities, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, and others who have historically suffered discrimination. Unfair discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation is now prohibited under a number of federal laws. We even staunchly stand behind the rights of animals, and rightly so.

However, what is incredible and incongruous, is the fact that we leave our most vulnerable unprotected, often protecting the rights of the powerful to do as they please to them including the use of legally sanctioned physical violence.

Yes, I am referring to our children. We in the United States have fought for the rights of parents to do as they please with their children, despite our awareness of very high statistical numbers on abuse and neglect in the home (including for instance the fact that one in four females and one in six males is a victim of sexual abuse in his/her own home by age 18).

Parental autonomy is written into our system, and many parents will fight hard for their right to hit children, which is protected throughout the United States. That in itself is shocking. If a grown man hits another grown man, that act is a crime. If that same grown man hits his own helpless tiny one-year-old baby, the one he was entrusted by nature to protect, we legally, morally, and generally as a nation sanction and protect that behavior as a parental right.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a parent’s right to raise his or her child is a fundamental right protected under the 14th Amendment (as if you recall it has in the past ruled that racial discrimination should be protected). Attempts to pass laws that limit parental rights to physically discipline their children, even in a limited way, are often met with stern resistance and even ridicule.

Not only are our laws and social values on this issue immoral, they are pragmatically incorrect. Recent studies, including MRI-based brain scans, have shown that corporal punishment in childhood fundamentally damages the forming brain of a developing baby and child leading potentially to a host of cognitive, psychological, and physical disorders.

Despite these studies, we are not changing. The Virginia Senate passed a bill last week to amend the Virginia Code to state, “A parent has a fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education and care of the parent’s child.”

While this sounds benign, child welfare advocates are concerned that this provision will further support court decision makers in placing the rights of parents before those of abused and neglected children who may be in danger.

Consider this article describing the situation in Virginia.

The question I have is – where is the provision in the Constitution that protects the rights our children, our very future, to be free from violence and abuse?

Absolute proof of the importance of parenting

February 1, 2013

There is no stronger evidence available today directly proving the importance of parenting than brain scans comparing the brains of those who were raised in a loving supportive environment and those who were raised with abuse and neglect.

A recent study out of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has shown that school aged children of mothers who had been more nurturing throughout their early years have larger, healthier brains.

Studying 92 children, evaluating objectively how nurturing their mothers were when the child was performing an emotionally stressful task, the researchers then conducted scans of the children’s brains. They found that children whose mothers were objectively identified as more nurturing each had a significantly larger hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for memory, stress control, learning, among other things. The hippocampi of the neglected children were up to 10% smaller than those of the children whose mothers were more caring and loving.

Take a look at the stark contrast in these comparison photos.

Child welfare agencies are often failing at protecting abused children

January 27, 2013

A number of recent reports are reflecting a sad state of affairs when it comes to protecting America’s children: the child protection agencies in various states are receiving grim reviews. Severe injuries after clear indications of abuse and neglect. Dead children in large numbers.

The Washington state Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman just released a report reflecting 74 child fatalities in the state of Washington in 2012.

It looks like social workers at child protective services agencies and others in the child welfare system are dropping the ball on cases where there is clear evidence that children are being abused and neglected. Is it desensitization? Is it pressure to complete cases quickly? Rubber stamping cases to get them off one’s desk? The incentivizing of agreeability among workers in the system in the name of personal career progress rather than actual child protection? All those things I personally witnessed in my experiences with the system in California.

As an example of what is occurring, one case in the Washington state report described a state worker who transported an 8-month-old to and from parental visits and saw bruising on the baby’s ears. This worker reported the situation to the social worker and supervisor handling the case, but neither made a report to CPS. The report also reflected child protection staff keeping kids in homes where there was no food, allegations of sexual abuse, and ongoing reports of physical abuse.

Now, a number of investigations throughout the country are reporting grave statistics. For example, a report in Massachusetts by the Office of the Child Advocate review just indicated a spike in infant deaths in cases under the watch of their Department of Children & Families.

Reform is critical on this subject. If we want to turn things around, instead of perpetuating the suffering of innocent children who grow up to become drains and strains on our society, we need to change incentives for workers within the system. The laws should focus on thorough and complete investigation as well as maximum treatment for parents. Instead, we’ve been putting the focus on efficiency, quick case closings, and personal relationships between staff in the system who often rubber-stamp each other’s recommendations.

The Office of the Family & Children’s Ombudsman’s new report in Washington state is leading to attempts at reform, and representatives of the office will be testifying at the state House of Representatives in a committee investigation of the topic. Let’s hope lawmakers in Washington state and throughout the United States start implementing effective reforms.

You can read some more detailed information in Dana Rebik’s article in the Q13 News Reporter.


January 10, 2013

Violence against women is an age-old phenomenon. Sohaila Abudali was gang raped and nearly killed years ago when she was 17 and living in Bombay. She was hiking on a mountain with a male friend. Both were taken by a group of four armed men, her friend beaten and she raped for hours. After writing an article about her experience, her battle to survive, and her ultimate triumph as a human being and as a woman, she and her experience faded from the public eye. Only now, after the horrific gang rape of a girl in Delhi, did her article resurface to public attention.

Abudali’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times this weekend is powerful. She writes about her survival with her dignity intact despite the violent attack. She writes that rape should concern the protection of a woman’s safety and should never be tied in to her virtue or to the honor of fathers, brothers, families. She writes about a system constructed to blame victims, which of course should instead protect them.

Soraya Chemaly writes a powerful piece on rape in this weekend’s Huffington Post. A self-identified feminist, Chemaly writes about violence against women as accepted and commonplace. In her piece, she focuses on the cultural phenomenon of victim-blaming and acceptance of male on female violence. As Chemaly says, “[Men] aren’t born to rape,” and as Abudali says, “We have spent generations constructing elaborate systems of patriarchy, caste and social and sexual inequality that allow abuse to flourish.”

Both send a hopeful message for the future that it is our cultural norms that set human behavior. Perhaps there is a chance we can change them.

The Connecticut school tragedy: Adam Lanza – Portrait of a killer

December 16, 2012

What is there to add to a nationwide conversation about a horrific and senseless tragedy, the murder of innocents by a killer who was apparently mentally unwell? Reading descriptions of Adam Lanza’s seemingly normal upper-middle class life in a safe quiet town and yet his unexplainable extreme social awkwardness noticed by many, it appears to me that what went on in his home during his early years, a mystery to the public world, is behind the shocking elementary school attack that took place this week.

While we have no current evidence that his successful tax executive father engaged in bad parenting, some strange facts have certainly been revealed about his mother in the last several days. She was a gun enthusiast, kept a number of them in the house, took her children target shooting with her, and used and kept in the house the very guns her son used in the shooting.

Based on the principles of attachment theory, the social issues so many people observed Adam Lanza exhibit, such as extreme discomfort in social situations, are symptoms of attachment disorder. Healthy attachment, which has been shown by numerous studies to be needed for healthy human social, emotional, and moral development, stems from a human being’s interaction with his or her mother or primary caregiver during infancy and the earliest years of life. To develop healthy social, emotional, and moral functioning, an individual needs to engage in a healthy mutual interaction of exchange, communication, and sensitive response with his primary caregiver during the earliest years. It appears this was likely missing for Adam Lanza.

With regard to the moral implications of disordered attachment, Professor Darcia Navarez and colleagues at Notre Dame University have shown through academic studies that mature moral functioning involves the integration of emotion, intuition and reasoning, all of which develop appropriately through attuned parenting particularly in the early years of life when the developing brain is most sensitive.

Of course, we can only speculate based on limited information, and none of us will ever truly know what really went on in the killer’s home during his early years, but it certainly appears, based on his mother’s unusual fascination with firearms and his extreme social issues, that some severely disordered parenting took place by Adam’s mother during his first years of life, which had an impact on the horrible tragedy that killed so many innocents.

Take a look at this article: Nancy, Mother of Gunman Adam Lanza, ‘Would Often Go Target Shooting With Her Kids’

31 children died in first six months of 2012 in cases overseen by Tennessee DCS

December 3, 2012

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is under fire for its oversight and reporting of child abuse and neglect cases in which multiple children died this year, namely 23 babies, 4 toddlers, one 5-year-old, and 3 teenagers.

The Tennessean newspaper has engaged in numerous communications with DCS requesting information about the cases leading to the deaths, and DCS has refused to comply.

Communicating through legal counsel, Tennessee DCS has indicated that it is already subject to oversight by a number of agencies, including a Child Protective Investigative team operating in each county, Child Fatality Review teams overseen by the Department of Health, and internal review by the DCS Office of Child Safety.

However, upon further investigation by the Tennessean, neither the Child Protective Investigative teams nor the Child Fatality review teams indicated providing any oversight of the DCS’ work, while the work of the internal review office was found to be completely private.

According to the Tennessean, other states’ investigative agencies have provided detail concerning child deaths, including case history leading up to the deaths. The Tennessee DCS appears to be behaving suspiciously, and the numbers are certainly shocking.

For more information,take a look at the detailed article documenting the Tennessean’s efforts to obtain information, and DCS’ responses and refusals. DCS withholds files on child deaths

Early intervention – a benefit cost analysis

November 18, 2012

In 2011, Minnesota passed the Safe Harbor for Youth Act, a law which increases penalties for pimps, purchasers, and other sex traffickers of minors. The law more closely aligns Minnesota state statutes with federal law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), creating structures for victimized youth to receive protective services.

The law does the following:

  • Excludes sexually exploited children under 16 from the definition of delinquent child;
  • Includes the definition of sexually exploited youth in Minnesota’s child protection code;
  • Creates a mandatory first-time diversion for any 16 or 17 year old who has been exploited in prostitution (where the child meets the criteria);
  • Allows prosecutors to continue diversion or to proceed with CHIPS petitions for children coming through the system additional times;
  • Increases penalties for buyers of sex with adults, from $250 to a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $750. Forty percent of fees will go into an account to serve sexually exploited children; and
  • Directs the commissioner of public safety to work with stakeholders to create a victim-centered response to sexually exploited youth.

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center performed a study analyzing the law’s impact since the beginning of its gradual implementation, using funding directing it to perform and cost-benefit analysis. The study’s focus was sexually-exploited female runaway and homeless youth ages 12 to 17.

Upon performing an academic analysis, researchers found $34 in benefit to every $1 in cost for the program.

These results imply that our state and national legislators should reconsider their priorities. When economic times are tough, we are nonetheless financially better off protecting our most vulnerable youth. Not only that, we are morally better off.

Consider the Benefit-Cost Analysis at this link: Benefit-Cost Study

No Way Out But One

November 1, 2012

Finally, the issue of child abusers being awarded custody in the family courts is gaining in public awareness, thanks to the recent film No Way Out But One, which just aired on the Documentary Channel on October 28, 2012.

There are hundreds if not thousands of protective parents around the world (mostly women) who have lost all or partial custody of their children in family courts when they complained that their former or divorcing spouse was physically or sexually abusing their children. This has been going on for years without widespread public knowledge. How can this be, you might ask? Isn’t the legal system here to protect the innocent? Don’t we all care about protecting children from abuse?

Call it misinformation. Call it inappropriate skepticism. Say that people perceive family court disputes as inappropriately drawn out custody battles based on parental selfishness where false allegations of abuse are often leveled by one parent against the other. Call it the big money made by custody evaluators hired by family courts in these cases. Whatever the real bottom-line reason, courts have often not been listening. Instead of protecting our children from abusers, our family courts have been giving abusers unfettered access to children.

One justification has been frequently used to allow for this phenomenon. This justification is called Parental Alienation Syndrome (“PAS”). Family courts have been discussing the terms PAS and alienation for years. Very recently, however, the American Psychiatric Association, after much consideration, decided not to include PAS in its upcoming revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

While parental alienation can be a real concern in some families and can itself be a form of child maltreatment, alienation theories have been inappropriately used to force children to see abusive parents. If a parent points out that there is evidence of abuse, the court and custody evaluator perceives the allegations with skepticism, often leveling accusations that this parent is simply trying to alienate the children from the other parent. Courts have done this repeatedly even in the face of clear evidence of abuse. They then often take custody rights completely from the protective parent on the theory of alienation.

These theories have been so commonly used in this context that there are numerous nonprofit groups fighting for justice on this issue. Large numbers of protective parents participate in rallies to protect their children. Hearings have been help before legislative committees on these issues. Mothers have attempted to run away with their children to protect them from being forced to have unsupervised visitation time with a violent cruel abusive parent.

This new film from producers Garland Waller and Barry Nolan, made on a shoestring budget of funds raised from an angel investor and Kickstarter, has been widely screened. It poignantly tells the true story of Holly Collins, a protective mother who completely lost custody of her children to an abusive father, whose children were returning from visits with bruises and who had even cracked his own son’s skull. The family court’s unbelievable reaction to her attempts to protect her children forced the mother to take the children to the Netherlands, where she became the first American woman to be granted asylum. Years later, the United States came to pursue her on kidnapping charges.

Take a look at the film’s website: No Way Out But One.

Nature and nurture

October 15, 2012

The new field of epigenetics has transformed the entire “nature versus nurture” debate.

Scientists have recently found that the genes in a human body, approximately 23,000 of them, operate based on instructions “written” on them by environmental influences and that the environment even influences whether and when genes are “turned on” or “turned off” and thus whether they express themselves at all.

Epigenetics is the term that describes this process.

Fetal and early post-natal development are critical times in the susceptibility of genes to epigenetic modification. For this reason, parental behavior when a child is in the womb and during the earliest years has a critical impact on a child’s developing body and mind.

Researchers have actually shown that parental care causes changes in the cells of the brain and body through epigenetic modification.

Epigenetic coding can be enduring or transitory. When enduring, it can change the behavior of genes in families through generations.