Screening for adverse childhood experiences to reduce toxic stress

This year, California became the first state to screen kids for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—including abuse, parental divorce, or having substance abuse in the household—which can induce a toxic stress response linked to a lifetime of health problems. The state’s first surgeon general, Nadine Burke Harris, MPH ’02, advocated for the initiative.

“I think the concept behind ACE screening, if it’s about sensitizing all of us to the importance of looking for that part of the population that’s experiencing adversity, I’d say that’s good,” Jack Shonkoff, Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a March 2, 2020 Newsweek article. However, he expressed concern that ACE screening could cause inappropriate alarm for individual families. Rather than see ACEs as a “deterministic diagnosis,” Shonkoff said, caregivers should find a way to make changes in their own lives that could limit damage to children’s long-term health.

Read the Newsweek article: Yes, Stress Really Is Making You Sick

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Launching a revolution (Harvard Public Health profile of Nadine Burke Harris)