Buchman: House Panel Takes Up Treatment of Childhood Trauma


WASHINGTON (CN) – During its first-ever hearing on the subject, the House Oversight Committee met Thursday with experts and survivors of childhood trauma, a day after an immigrant mother gave emotional testimony about the death of her baby daughter following their stay at a detention center.

Thursday’s hearing comes on the heels of testimony delivered by Yazmin Juarez, the mother of a 19-month-old girl who died after 20 days in detention at a facility in Texas. Her story detailed the condition of hundreds of children who were tightly confined, filthy and without the basic necessities for proper care.

While much attention is centered on the treatment of children at the border, Debra Houry, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told lawmakers that a study conducted last year revealed suicide rates are going up overall in almost every state and suicides are accelerating among youth in more than half of the states.

The cause, Houry explained, is the spread of undiagnosed adverse childhood experiences. Those experiences can be defined by exposure to things like physical, sexual, verbal or substance abuse, as well as poverty, malnutrition and more.

A Centers for Disease Control investigation in Stark County, Ohio, last year found that 30% of youth who had three or more instances of adverse childhood experiences disclosed suicidal ideations. The rate was 80% among young people using opioids.

“Suicide is not just about mental illness. More than half of those who die by suicide did not have a diagnosed mental illness. It’s brought on by childhood trauma or losing a job, or losing a relationship or economic stress,” Houry said.

Dr. Christina Bethell, director of the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, told lawmakers while legislation like the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act can address issues victims face, the government’s approach doesn’t factor in the generational, cultural or economic pressures that spur abuse and later cement trauma in impressionable minds.

“The federal government must be relentless. All of the National Institute of Health programs that study disease know childhood trauma is a factor but we need to start integrating adverse childhood experiences into all programs” Bethell said.

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