More evidence on why early intervention matters

We have two long term goals at CAADA.  One is to halve the number of high risk victims of domestic abuse and the other is to halve the time it takes for them to get effective help.  Surprisingly to many people, our evidence confirms that we actually support high risk victims at an earlier stage than other levels of risk – in part because the combination of violence and abuse that they suffer makes them more visible to both the police, health practitioners and others.  Our focus on reducing the time that victims live with abuse has two aims – to support them but also to limit the amount of time that their children are living with it too.

A new working paper published from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University entitled ‘Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain’ underlines just how important this is.  It describes how exposure of young children to toxic stress – namely strong, frequent or prolonged stress – can impact the development of those parts of the brain that manage fear, anxiety and impulsive responses.  This is just the sort of stress experienced by children, particularly very young children, living with domestic abuse.  The long term impacts include a range of stress related disorders depression, alcoholism and drug abuse and physical disorders including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke. (http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/reports_and_working_papers/working_papers/wp3/ )

More optimistically, the paper argues that responses to early stress vary dramatically with positive early care-giving being crucial to decrease the likelihood of adverse outcomes.  This links to another paper, published in June this year in the journal of Early Child Development and Care, entitled ‘Early childhood education as a resilience intervention for maltreated children’ (Ellenbogen, Klein and Wekerle), which argues for the value of high quality early childhood education, particularly for disadvantaged and vulnerable families.

There is no question that the vast majority of children growing up with domestic abuse experience the kind of toxic stress that the Harvard team outlined.  Our children’s Insights data highlights how much children benefit from early support and what difference it can make to their view of the world and of themselves.  The most basic example of 60% of the children in our research being unable to fall asleep says it all for me.  Are we surprised if they don’t perform well at school the next day? And find it hard to make friends?  And then display ‘behavioural difficulties’? We need not just more specialist support for children, but also universal practitioners, friends and family to understand the impact of domestic abuse on their lives and how we can help build their resilience.

3 Comments to “More evidence on why early intervention matters”

  1. But who can help children? Which organisations exist? Everyone says – children who witness or experience domestic abuse need support – but no-one tells you where to find it.

    • That is a big question! We would argue that universal services should be equipped to help children and that specialist services should offer linked support for mother and child. Depending on where you are, we can put you in touch with any local services.

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