Oct. 7

A weekly publication of               10/7/2014

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Research shows that investing in healthy child development reduces the likelihood of a significant array of costly conditions, including chronic health problems, premature mortality, lowered educational achievement, lost productivity, mental illness, violent crime, substance abuse and addiction, and the perpetuation of abuse and neglect.~ Prevent Child Abuse America

Dear Pat,

I have to admit that I have always been a bit of a science wonk. I am intrigued by biology and genetics. So, I subscribe to a couple of newsletters that have to do with both. I am also interested in child development, as I have a degree in early childhood education, and I subscribe to newsletters on that subject as well. This summer all of those newsletters had information about a new study linking child abuse, child development, and genetics. I found it quite interesting and thought I would share it with you.

Children who have been abused or neglected early in life are at risk for developing both emotional and physical health problems. In a new study, scientists have found that maltreatment affects the way genes are activated, which has implications for children's long-term development. Previous studies focused on how a particular child's individual characteristics and genetics interacted with that child's experiences in an effort to understand how health problems emerge. In the new study, researchers were able to measure the degree to which genes were turned "on" or "off" through a biochemical process called methylation. This new technique reveals the ways that nurture changes nature -- that is, how our social experiences can change the underlying biology of our genes.

“The study, from researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, appears in the journal Child Development. Nearly 1 million children in the United States are neglected or abused every year.

The researchers found an association between the kind of parenting children had and a particular gene (called the glucocorticoid receptor gene) that's responsible for crucial aspects of social functioning and health. Not all genes are active at all times. DNA methylation is one of several biochemical mechanisms that cells use to control whether genes are turned on or off. The researchers examined DNA methylation in the blood of 56 children ages 11 to 14. Half of the children had been physically abused.

They found that compared to the children who hadn't been maltreated, the maltreated children had increased methylation on several sites of the glucocorticoid receptor gene, also known as NR3C1, echoing the findings of earlier studies of rodents. In this study, the effect occurred on the section of the gene that's critical for nerve growth factor, which is an important part of healthy brain development.

There were no differences in the genes that the children were born with, the study found; instead, the differences were seen in the extent to which the genes had been turned on or off. "This link between early life stress and changes in genes may uncover how early childhood experiences get under the skin and confer lifelong risk," notes Seth D. Pollak, professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who directed the study.

Previous studies have shown that children who have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect are more likely to develop mood, anxiety, and aggressive disorders, as well as to have problems regulating their emotions. These problems, in turn, can disrupt relationships and affect school performance. Maltreated children are also at risk for chronic health problems such as cardiac disease and cancer. The current study helps explain why these childhood experiences can affect health years later.

The gene identified by the researchers affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in rodents. Disruptions of this system in the brain would make it difficult for people to regulate their emotional behavior and stress levels. Circulating through the body in the blood, this gene affects the immune system, leaving individuals less able to fight off germs and more vulnerable to illnesses.

"Our finding that children who were physically maltreated display a specific change to the glucocorticoid receptor gene could explain why abused children have more emotional difficulties as they age," according to Pollak. "They may have fewer glucocorticoid receptors in their brains, which would impair the brain's stress-response system and result in problems regulating stress."

The findings have implications for designing more effective interventions for children, especially since studies of animals indicate that the effects of poor parenting on gene methylation may be reversible if caregiving improves. The study also adds to what we know about how child maltreatment relates to changes in the body and mind, findings that were summarized recently in an SRCD Social Policy Report by Sara R. Jaffee and Cindy W. Christian.”

Sunday, October 12, 5:30pm – 6:30pm, Grafton County Republican Committee Columbus Day Dinner, The Common Man Inn at Plymouth, NH (I- 93 – Exit 26)

Click here to see more events in New Hampshire!

The New Hampshire Children’s Trust is the state chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America. They promote the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition of child abuse and neglect, which is the following:

Child Maltreatment:

Any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver (e.g., clergy, coach, teacher) that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.

Acts of Commission (Child Abuse)

Words or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child. Acts of commission are deliberate and intentional; however, harm to a child may or may not be the intended consequence. Intentionality only applies to the caregivers' acts-not the consequences of those acts. For example, a caregiver may intend to hit a child as punishment (i.e., hitting the child is not accidental or unintentional) but not intend to cause the child to have a concussion. The following types of maltreatment involve acts of commission:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse

Acts of Omission (Child Neglect)

The failure to provide for a child's basic physical, emotional, or educational needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm. Like acts of commission, harm to a child may or may not be the intended consequence.

The following types of maltreatment involve acts of omission:

  • Failure to provide

    • Physical neglect
    • Emotional neglect
    • Medical/dental neglect
    • Educational neglect
  • Failure to supervise

    • Inadequate supervision
    • Exposure to violent environments

Why is a Consistent Definition Important?

A consistent definition is needed to monitor the incidence of child maltreatment and examine trends over time. In addition, it helps determine the magnitude of child maltreatment and compare the problem across jurisdictions.

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers related to child abuse and neglect in NH from our partners at NH Children’s Trust:

What is the cost of child abuse in New Hampshire?

  • $300 million is spent annually on treatment of child abuse and neglect victims.

What is the cost to the tax payers of New Hampshire?

  • $95.7 million annually.

How many children are abused and neglected each year?

  • About 1,000 New Hampshire children are found to be victims of abuse or neglect at the hands of a parent or primary caregiver each year -and about 30% of them are under the age of four. When all children don’t have equal opportunity for healthy growth and development, we put our future at risk.  Fortunately we know how to do better.  Because a third of children reported as abused or neglected are children under four years of age, and most are in the child protective system for the first time, we are focusing on innovative programs that intervene early on.  These programs help lay strong foundations for children’s later growth and development which will reduce the possibility of more serious and expensive problems from developing later, resulting in lifelong effects on physical and mental health.  Although nationally 753,000 children are reported as abused or neglected each year, using this approach we are confident we can reduce that number significantly.

What is the most common age of the abused?

  • In 2011, 35% of victims were younger than 3 years, with children younger than 1 year having the highest rate of victimization (21.2 per 1,000 children).(Source: 2013 CDC Report)

What is the most common age of death from abuse?

  • Of child maltreatment fatalities in 2011, 81.6% occurred among children younger than age 4; 9.5% among 4-7 year-olds; 4.6% among 8-11 year-olds; 2.2% among 12-15 year-olds; and 1.4% among 16-17 year-olds. (Source:  CDC)

How can we prevent child abuse?

  • When we intervene early in children’s lives, we see the results later on in a more prosperous future for all of us.  Child development is community development.  When we provide healthy environments of experiences and relationships, we build a strong foundation for healthy brain development.  One active ingredient is the “serve and return” relationships that children have with their parents and other caregivers in their communities.  As in games such as tennis and volleyball, young children naturally reach out for interaction, and adults respond with reliable, underdeveloped, and future development must rely on a fragile foundation.  That is why our organization supports efforts to implement child abuse prevention programs known to be effective, such as the Period of PURPLE Crying, Healthy Families America and Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework.  This ensures that all children in our community will grow up with healthy development they need to become stable, contributing adults.

MaryLou Beaver
New Hampshire Director
Every Child Matters Education Fund

You can help win the fight for our kids by making a tax-deductible donation to ECM in any amount at www.everychildmatters.org.

Every Child Matters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to make children a national political priority. For more information, visit www.everychildmatters.org
1023 15th St. NW Suite 401 Washington, DC 20005