By Mrinal Gokhale
The words “My mom said ‘I ain’t gonna teach you nothing, because I want you to go through what I went through” were displayed on a PowerPoint slide in the Italian Community Center ballroom.
This quote was stated by someone who took part in a study that explored how childhood stressors lead to poor health outcomes, according to Dr. Roy Wade. SaintA hosted Childhood Adversity & Poverty: Developing a Collaborative Response on April 12 from 3pm to 6 pm, featuring Dr. Wade as the keynote speaker.
Now in its 156th year, SaintA is a Milwaukee human services organization that works with children, adults and families providing foster care and mental health services.
Wade, who became connected to SaintA just two years ago, helped SaintA understand health outcomes in urban settings. This study was co-sponsored by the City of Milwaukee Health Department and the Center for Policy Study. Mayor Tom Barrett gave a statement before Dr. Wade’s presentation began.
“Milwaukee is home to the region’s poor population, and poverty is a social determinant of health,” Barrett said. “The City of Milwaukee Health Department will work with the police department to develop crisis response system so policemen better understand how to address trauma.”
He also said that the Black Health Coalition and Sojourner Family Peace Center are working to address childhood adversity as well.
Wade hails from Philadelphia as a pediatrician who has seen the connection between poverty and poor health outcomes many times. Wade began by identifying the 7EI, or seven essential ingredients, to understand adversity in childhood.
These being: Prevalence, impact, perspective shift, regulation, relationship, reason to be and caregiver capacity.
“The Adverse Childhood Experience Study discusses ways to address and deal with stress within a community and in Philadelphia, we did a replicate of that study,” he began. By developing a screening tool, Wade determined that people who have four or more ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, risk significant health problems.
These people are more likely to develop cognitive and social impairments, and also use negative coping strategies like drinking, drugs, smoking and high risk sexual behaviors.
“There are positive and toxic forms of stress. Toxic stress results from absence of protective relationships,” he said.
He added that some ACE’s that contributed to health disparities are poverty, racism, and domestic abuse.
“Toxic stress increases cortisol production, leading to molecular level changes in DNA, which can transmit it to offspring,” Wade said. He believed that the shocking part of the study is that people who experienced ACEs have had a high risk of conditions like cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), headaches, autoimmune diseases and diabetes, as well as early heart attacks and death. To address ACEs in children, he said adults should intervene. “Adults can mitigate impact of trauma,” Wade said.
“We currently have researchers looking into mindfulness for pregnant women, and how it can improve impact of their children.”
At the Children’s Hospital Wade works at, he said children are taught to identify triggers and learn emotional control and self regulation.
“We also teach the parents not to blame themselves,” Wade said.
After his presentation ended, Judge Mary Triggiano, discussed why she felt it was important to utilize a trauma informed care approach to dealing with childhood adversity. “I have high cortisol levels running through my veins now,” Triggiano said. “Prevention is the key to preventing and mitigating ACEs.”
She recalled a specific example with the Milwaukee County Family Drug Treatment Court, which began five years ago. She said a Healthy Infants Court would also be implemented this May, based on a national best practices model. “One woman had nine babies who all were in the system because they tested positive to what their mother used,” Triggiano said.
“When she got pregnant again, she voluntarily came to drug treatment court. Her newborn didn’t end up in ICU and had the best health outcome of all her kids.”
Triggianno was one of five panelists to speak at the event. Other speakers were Tim Grove, chief clinical officer and trauma informed care trainer at SaintA, Dr. David Pate, associate professor at the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare and University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty, and Terri Strodthoff, PhD. of the Alma Center.