HONOLULU — For Rep. Dee Morikawa, it’s important to understand the trauma children can go through after suffering from domestic abuse.
“In these troubled times of political unrest, racial discrimination, poverty and families struggling to make ends meet, children are very vulnerable to violence,” said Morikawa, D-16. “Sometimes, we don’t realize the trauma these children go through, because we don’t take the time to talk to them, to reassure them and to explain the situation.”
That’s why she supports a Senate resolution, SCR 136, which urges government entities to take into account a study called Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE, when dealing with children suffering from abuse-related trauma.
According to the National Children’s Alliance, nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. annually. Additionally, neglect is the most common form of maltreatment, and four out of the five abusers are the victim’s parents.
“Although, it is only a resolution, it encourages agencies to incorporate research and strategies regarding ACEs into their work,” said Theresa Koki, coordinator of Life’s Choices Kauai. “Many agencies mentioned in the resolution already incorporate ACEs in their assessments of children.”
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study was conducted by Kaiser Permanente, a health maintenance organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the 1990s.
The ACE study found that trauma from adverse childhood experiences like physical or sexual abuse, parental divorce and parental substance abuse are common but often unrecognized. And effects from experiencing that kind of trauma can lead to issues with social, mental, physical and academic development.
People who suffered from trauma as children are likely to engage in high-risk behaviors like alcohol and drug abuse and smoking. Childhood trauma has also been linked to heart disease, cancer and chronic lung disease.
More than 17,000 people participated in the study, 28 percent of which reported physical abuse and 21 percent reported sexual abuse. Almost 40 percent of the sample reported two or more adverse childhood experiences and 12.5 percent experienced four or more.
Education and providing support is key to reducing the side effects that can be brought on by childhood trauma, according to ACE.
Helping child victims
The Department of Health uses Trauma-Informed Care, which focuses on understanding the neurological, biological and psychological effects of trauma, in its approach in handling child trauma, according to testimony in support of SCR 136.
The Child & Adolescent Mental Health Division has established a new template for initial mental health evaluations that includes asking a child about their negative experiences. And in 2006, DOH used a federal grant to develop specialized services for girls who experienced significant trauma, which are designed to help them stay at home, in school and out of trouble.
The Department of Human Services provides services to victims of domestic abuse, including referral to mental health professionals and legal services The department also provides services to help families become self-sufficient.
Justin Kollar, prosecuting attorney,for the County of Kauai, said the ACE study can assist the prosecutor’s office in finding ways to better understand and support child abuse victims.
Morikawa, who is the chair of the Human Services Committee and serves on the health committee, said the resolution raises awareness and will get the departments to work on strategies and incorporate the proper research necessary to deal with children suffering from trauma.