How pediatricians at Primary Children’s Hospital are identifying childhood trauma to help kids thrive

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Pediatric trauma is a serious issue impacting millions of kids each year – and the pandemic may have exacerbated the problem.

Experts say as many as 80 percent of all kids suffer at least one traumatic stress, and the healthcare costs of treating kids who have faced trauma are estimated by CDC at $120 billion in any given year. But specialists at Intermountain’s Primary Children’s Hospital and the University of Utah Department of Pediatrics have created a way to identify childhood trauma so they can get kids the treatment they need and support families through difficult stressors.

This traumatic stress care model has been used to screen 50,000 young children for adverse childhood experiences, including food or housing insecurity, racism and community safety, and connected several thousand children and adolescents to evidence-based care they need.

This early identification is key to helping children thrive, said Neal Davis, MD, medical director of pediatric community-based care for Intermountain Healthcare.

“Children rapidly develop capabilities in cognition, language, emotional growth and reasoning from birth to age five. When young children grow up in unhealthy environments it can impair their development and have a lasting effect on their ability to fulfill their potential,” Dr. Davis said.

“The good news is that if we proactively address risk factors, kids have a better shot at long-term health and success,” he added.

Adverse childhood experiences can affect a child’s health far into adulthood — and increase the risk of chronic disease including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, mental illness, substance use disorder, and other health challenges later in life.

Addressing these risk factors early on gives children more opportunities to thrive and promotes a healthier community. Early interventions can significantly decrease incidents of infant mortality, developmental delays, substance use disorder, and the likelihood of encounters with the criminal justice system.

Addressing adverse childhood experiences is part of the Intermountain Healthcare Healthy Kids initiative and Intermountain’s “Primary Promise” to invest $500 million to create the nation’s model health system for children.

The investment will be shared by Intermountain Healthcare and community philanthropic support through Intermountain Foundation’s emerging campaign.

This year, the Healthy Kids initiative received a $10 million gift from community leader Chrystal Maggelet and her family

“Healthy Kids focuses on engaging community partners to get upstream of challenges and prevent them from happening whenever possible,” Dr. Davis said.  “Early interventions can only help children to thrive and create stronger communities well into the future.”

You can get more information at Intermountain Healthcare’s website.  

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