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Do NOT let A Predator Make Your Child a Victim

As Parents we want to protect our children from all harm and evil! We can’t! But we can be informed and keep our children savvy and enlightened!

Predator pic1There are predators out there and our children are their targets. What I’m going to talk about will shock and horrify you. It will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Some of you might even want to stop reading here because this is the subject of horror movies and nightmares. This is something most of us would rather die than imagine happen to our children. But I implore you to continue, this is too important to ignore.

As a medical professional, I have seen firsthand the toll something like this can take on a child. The effects are devastating and life long. The incidence of crimes against children is on the rise. I’m sorry to have to tell you that unfortunately the times we live in are too dangerous to turn a blind eye.

I have some staggering statistics that are probably going to make you sick. I also have some tools to EMPOWER YOU and your CHILDREN! You do not need to be a helpless victim!

According to family watchdog an online Sex Offender Registry

  • 1 of 5 girls and 1 of 6 boys will be molested before their 18th birthday.
  • 90% of all sexual assaults against children are committed by someone whom the victim knew.
  • The typical sexual predator will assault 117 times before being caught.
  • The re-arrest rate for convicted child molesters is 52%.
  • That your child will become a victim of a sex offender is 1 in 3 for girls & 1 in 6 for boys. **Source: The National Center for Victims of Crime
  • Over 2,000 children are reported missing every day.

Background on Registered Sex Offender Laws:

The U.S. Congress has passed several laws that require states to monitor registered sex offenders; the Jacob Wetterling Crimes against Children Act, the Pam Lychner Sex Offender tracking and Identification Act and Megan’s Law.

On March 5, 2003, The Supreme Court ruled that information about registered sex offenders may be posted on the Internet. Good for us!

Let’s take advantage of these laws!!! This is Not about Vigilantism! This is about being INFORMED! This is about KNOWING where REGISTERED SEX OFFENDERS in YOUR AREA LIVE and WORK!!

Here are some excellent places to start:

  • National Sex Offender Public Website where you can search by name
  • National Alert Registry
  • Search for Sex Offenders in your area if there are offenders in your area there is a key to show you where they work and where they live. You can click on these boxes and a picture of the offender will pop up.
  • iTouch also has 2 great applications! 1 is free. It allows you to download 3 free searches of Registered Sex offenders in your Area. For a Small one time fee you can download the full program which lets you search whatever zip code you want! This would be very useful while traveling!
  • The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children “NCMEC” is a WEALTH of information!! As the nation’s resource center for protecting children they have NUMEROUS free online downloadable publications that EVERY parent needs to take advantage of! Their prevention and safety education programs and materials contain information and tips that will help you keep your children safer. I suggest you go to this site at your leisure and READ READ READ!! It could very well save you some heartache!

For decades, children were taught to stay away from “strangers.” But this concept is difficult for children to grasp and often the perpetrator is someone the child knows. It is more beneficial to help build Children’s confidence and teach them to respond to a potentially dangerous situation, rather than teaching them to look out for a particular type of person.

Here are some tips to help you take some first steps to help them avoid becoming a victim:

  • Make sure you know where each of your children is at all times. Know your children’s friends and be clear with your children about the places and homes they may visit. Make it a rule for your children to check-in with you when they arrive at or depart from a particular location and when there is a change in plans. You should also let them know when Predators - NCMECyou’re running late or if your plans have changed to show the rule is for safety purposes and not being used to “check up” on them.
  • Never leave children unattended in a vehicle, whether it is running or not. Children should never be left unsupervised or allowed to spend time alone or with others in vehicles as the potential dangers to their safety outweigh any perceived convenience or “fun.” Remind children to never hitchhike, approach a vehicle, or engage in a conversation with anyone within a vehicle they do not know and trust. Also they should never go anywhere with anyone without first getting your permission.
  • Be involved in your children’s activities. As an active participant you’ll have a better opportunity to observe how the adults in charge interact with your children. If you are concerned about anyone’s behavior, take it up with the sponsoring organization.
  • Listen to your children. Pay attention if they tell you they don’t want to be with someone or go somewhere. This may be an indication of more than a personality conflict or lack of interest in the activity or event.
  • Notice when anyone shows one or all of your children a great deal of attention or begins giving them gifts. Take the time to talk to your children about the person and find out why that person is acting in this way.
  • Teach your children they have the right to say NO to any unwelcome, uncomfortable, or confusing touch or actions by others and get out of those situations as quickly as possible. If avoidance is not an option, children should be taught to kick, scream, and resist. When in such a situation, teach them to loudly yell, “This person is not my father/mother/guardian,” and then immediately tell you if this happens. Reassure them you’re there to help and it is okay to tell you anything.
  • Be sensitive to any changes in your children’s behavior or attitude. Encourage open communication and learn how to be an active listener. Look and listen to small cues and clues indicating something may be troubling your children, because children are not always comfortable disclosing disturbing events or feelings. This may be because they are concerned about your reaction to their problems. If your children do confide problems to you, strive to remain calm, reassuring, and nonjudgmental. Listen compassionately to their concern, and work with them to get the help they need to resolve the problem.
  • Be sure to screen babysitters and caregivers. Many jurisdictions now have a public registry allowing parents and guardians to check out individuals for prior criminal records and sex offenses. Check references with other families who have used the caregiver or babysitter. Once you have chosen the caregiver, drop in unexpectedly to see how your children are doing. Ask your children how the experience with the caregiver was, and carefully listen to the responses.
  • Practice basic safety skills with your children. Make an outing to a mall or park a “teachable” experience in which your children practice checking with you, using pay telephones, going to the restroom with a friend, and locating the adults who may be able to help if they need assistance. Remember, allowing your children to wear clothing or carry items in public on which their name is displayed may bring about unwelcome attention from inappropriate people looking for a way to start a conversation with your children.
  • Remember there is no substitute for your attention and supervision. Being available and taking time to really know and listen to your children helps build feelings of safety and security. 1

In conclusion, YOU HAVE A RIGHT to keep your children safe!

  • You have the right to know if Registered Sex Offenders are in your neighborhood! Be aware! Predator pic-addl
    • Check the registry by location for sex offenders located near Daycare centers, Schools, Camps, Church or anyplace you may be leaving your children, even Grandma and Grandpa’s house.
    • Check the registry by name for Church Officials, Teachers, Neighbors, Counselors, Private instruction Tutors, Bus Drivers, after school Activities leaders, Coaches etc.
    • Check them often. Take nothing for granted. Everyone is suspect.
  • Consult NCMEC’s prevention and safety education programs and materials for additional steps you and your children can take to help them feel empowered, and to know what they can do if they find themselves in a situation where they feel scared or compromised.
  • Finally, observe and listen; and TEACH CHILDREN to recognize and respond to anything that scares them. Children are very perceptive by nature. You are not ruining their childhood by talking to them when they are young. You may just be saving it!

Sex offenders place themselves in situations where children are! They make themselves appeal to children. This is NO Accident! Be SAVVY. We have the tools to fight these predators! LET’S USE THEM!

Leslie Mayorga R.N. BSN

1 “Know the Rules…General Tips for Parents and Guardians to Help Keep Their Children Safer” National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

“My Body Belongs to Me” Children’s Book: Prevent The Unthinkable

As a former prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City for 22 years, I often encountered My Body Belongs to Me-small2children who were sexually abused for lengthy periods of time and suffered in silence. One case in particular had a profound impact on me and compelled me to write a children’s book called My Body Belongs to Me.

I prosecuted the case of a 9-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather since she was 6. She told no one. One day, the girl saw an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” about children who were physically abused. The episode, “Tortured Children,” empowered the girl with this simple message: If you are being abused, tell your parents. If you can’t tell your parents, go to school and tell your teacher. The girl got the message and the very next day went to school and told her teacher. I prosecuted the case for the District Attorney’s office. The defendant was convicted and is now serving a lengthy prison sentence.

I have thought often of that very sweet, very brave 9-year-old girl. It occurred to me that after three painful years, all it took to end her nightmare was a TV program encouraging her to “tell a teacher.” I wrote My Body Belongs to Me to continue that message. It endeavors to teach children that they don’t have to endure abuse in silence. Parents and educators can use it as a tool to facilitate an open dialogue with youngsters.

The story is a simple scenario involving a gender neutral child who is inappropriately touched by an uncle’s friend. The powerful message really comes through when the youngster tells on the offender and the parents praise the child’s bravery. The last page shows a proud, smiling child doing a “strong arm” pose. The text assures them that it wasn’t their fault and by speaking out the child will continue to grow big and strong. It is a compelling and uplifting message.

The “Suggestions for the Storyteller” section is an important, interactive feature that facilitates the discussion to follow. It will make any caregiver feel more comfortable talking about this important subject, thereby helping to PREVENT the unthinkable from happening to their child. Research tells us that child sexual abuse does not discriminate. It is a problem that affects everyone.

  • In the United States, approx. 1 of 4 girls and 1 of 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • 47% of child sexual abuse victims wait 5 years or more to speak up, if they ever do.
  • 93% of child sexual abuse victims are abused by someone they already know.

It is my sincere hope that by educating girls and boys about this taboo subject, My Body Belongs to Me will prevent them from becoming victims in the first place.

Editor’s Note: This powerful book is now available in bilingual English – Spanish; just in time for April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month. My Body Belongs to Me/Mi cuerpo me pertenece

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

  • To keep your children safe:
    1. No secrets. Period. Encourage your children to tell you about things that happen to them that make them feel scared, sad or uncomfortable. If children have an open line of communication, they will be more inclined to alert you to something suspicious before it becomes a problem. The way I effectuate this rule is as follows: If someone, even a grandparent, were to say something to my child such as “I’ll get you an ice cream later, but it will be our secret”, I firmly, but politely say “We don’t do secrets in our family.” Then I say to my child “Right? We don’t do secrets. We can tell each other everything.”
    2. Teach your child the correct terms for their body parts. This will make them more at ease if they need to tell you about a touch that made them feel uncomfortable.
    3. Teach your child to tell a safe person if someone touches them in an inappropriate way. Discuss with children the importance of telling a parent, teacher or other trusted adult right away.
    4. Let children decide for themselves how they want to express affection. Children should not be forced to hug or kiss if they are uncomfortable. Even if they are your favorite aunt, uncle or cousin, your child should not be forced to be demonstrative in their affection. While this may displease you, by doing this, you will empower your child to say no to inappropriate touching.
  • If you choose to use My Body Belongs to Me as a tool for teaching your family about body safety, here are some suggestions:
    1. Read the book at least once for enjoyment before using it to get into a serious discussion.
    2. After reading the book, help lead an open-ended discussion by asking questions such as the following: What are your parts that are private, Why did the child get scared, What did the uncle’s friend do, What did he tell the little child, If someone touches your private parts, should it be a secret, Why did the uncle’s friend put his finger up to his lips, What did the child do when he did that, Were the mom and dad happy when the child told them what had happened, What did they do, If the child did not tell the parents, who else could be told, How does the child feel in the picture at the end?
    3. Find teachable moments with your child to reinforce the lessons learned in the book.

The Techniques of a Predator: Part II – Bribery and Threats

In The Techniques of a Predator: Part I we discussed how online predators groom children for both online and offline sexual attacks using trust and romance to manipulate them. Now, we will conclude this discussion by talking about how predators can use bribery and threats as well and we will give you additional ways to protect your children.

Bribery

Here, predators offer gifts to the other person in exchange for getting what they want. This often takes the form of gift cards that can be redeemed online. For younger victims, gift cards to Google Play or iOS App Store are popular. For older children, Amazon gift cards are popular, as are those to gaming platforms. They are easily obtained and the redemption codes can be sent via text or by taking a picture of the card’s unique code. They can also be difficult to trace, especially when bought in a store and sent as a picture.

Similar to the stereotypical drug dealer exchange, the first “gift” may be provided for free. After that, the predator suggests that since they did something for the victim, then the victim should do something in return before they give them another gift.

Threats

Once an intimate image is sent, it is easily used as leverage to get more. However, another type of threat is becoming more common. In this case, a predator takes their time to groom their target over an extended period of time. All during this time, there is nothing done or said that could be construed as troubling. Everything seems safe and risk-free.

During this time, the predator is learning about their target through seemingly innocent conversation, asking questions such as:

  • “Where do you go to school?”
  • “Where do you live?”
  • “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

Depending on the app being used, their privacy settings, and if they’ve actually friended/connected this person, the predator has complete access to everything they’ve posted. They can see who their friends and family member are through their Facebook profile, for example. They can see who they follow on Instagram and who follows them. They can see who they’ve tagged in images and who has tagged them.

This all leads up to the predator threatening to physically hurt the people that their victim knows if they do not send pictures or videos to the predator. Scared and not sure whom to trust, minors often send the pictures to protect their family and friends. This only makes the situation worse, leading to more cases of sextortion.

In the case of Ashley Reynolds, she was contacted by a man who said that he had naked photos of her and would send them to her friends if she didn’t send him more pictures. Ashley was confident that nobody had such pictures of her like that, as she’d never sent any pics like that to anyone. She was 14 at the time.

Even if the images were not of her though, Ashley worried that people would not believe her if she denied it. Doubting herself, she yielded to his demands, which led to months of anguish, until her parents found out what was happening. She was sending as many as 60 pictures per day to her attacker. Eventually, her attacker made a mistake that led to his arrest. According to the FBI, he was a 31 year old man from Florida, with over 80,000 images on his computer from 350 girls, across 26 states, Canada and the U.K. He was sentenced to 105 years in prison for his crimes.

Had Ashley never sent the image to her attacker, she could very well have gotten through the situation, even if he had followed through on his threat to send pictures that were reportedly of her. By giving in, the opened the door to not being able to deny the pictures were of her.

How You Can Protect Your Family

Talk to your child about how sharing intimate photos online can affect them.

Parents need to discuss the realities of what can happen if such images ever make it to the Internet. One of those realities is that the images may never go away. They become part of their Digital Footprint – the impressions left behind long after the person does something online.

Wisdom comes with time, something that by their very nature, children lack.

Parents need to have “the talk” with their kids earlier than they expect to about what is acceptable and responsible with regards to online behavior. This may be more difficult to do than some parents would expect.

In the world where kids feel like they have to send such pictures or feel that it’s no big deal to show off their bodies, a “scared straight” approach might be what it takes to get through to them.

In Shame Nation, the Global Epidemic of Online Hate, the authors interviewed people involving a case coming from an affluent town in Massachusetts. Using Dropbox, an online storage site for file sharing, several high school boys reportedly starting posting intimate images of girls from the school. Even after the story broke, girls continued to send pictures to boys, knowing that they would likely end up on the site. They considered it an honor, with one mother saying, “It was a bit of a beauty contest… Some are mortified, some are proud.”

Encourage them to consider who could see what they share online.

In business classes that I teach, we discuss the Four P’s of Marketing. I took that approach and turned it into the Four P’s of Social Media:

  1. Parents (or other family members)
  2. Principal (or employer)
  3. Police
  4. Predator

Everyone should consider how they’d feel if any of the Four P’s of Social Media saw what people did online. Parents need to discuss what is acceptable and unacceptable to do online with their children – probably far earlier than they expect to have to do so.

Understand how important it is that you talk to your child about sex and consent.

Last year, I gave a presentation to all of the principals and guidance counselors in my own district’s schools. This originated after a district administrator noticed an increase in sexting at the grade school level! Even before that, when our daughter was in third grade, a classmate announced that she posts inappropriate pictures of herself on Instagram. It turned out to be not true in this case, but that statement was a cry for attention. A cry for help!

As Dr. Mary Anne Franks, the tech policy director at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative explains, “Parents have to be willing to talk to their children about sex and the importance of sexual consent. Otherwise, they leave children to learn about sex from peers, porn, and predators.” When we choose to teach them about sex ourselves, we can limit the sexual influences of other people and teach them how to deal with pressure from outside sources, like predators.

Whether parents like it or not, sexting is the new norm for this generation. Forbidding them from doing it won’t stop them. If that were the case, children would always do as their told. Is that the way it works? In most homes, the answer is no. Some treat sexting as comparable to dating – before their parents will actually let them go out on a date. Others see it as “getting to first base”.

The old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” is no longer acceptable.

Be a role model.

Additionally, parents need to realize that they are role models to their kids 24/7. When they see adults or older siblings do things, they expect that it’s acceptable behavior and will not realize it may not be good for them. In a new study that just came out from the founders of the Cyberbullying Research Center, boys, not girls, were more likely to be targeted for sextortion. This surprised them and would probably shock many parents, who tend to think more about protecting girls from online sexual predators.

In conclusion, by speaking to our children clearly and openly about sexuality and online dangers, we give them the knowledge they need to make healthier decisions. And when we begin the dialogue with them, they are more likely to be open with us when they are facing a questionable situation.

Prevention here is not worth an ounce of cure. It’s worth an immeasurable amount of cure!

How to Get Kids to Talk About Their Feelings

If you’re worried about a child, encouraging them to talk can be very helpful, whether you’re a parent, grandparent, friend or teacher.

If you think a child you know has a problem, it can be hard to know how to start talking to them about it.

When there are problems at home, such as parents fighting, divorce or a death in the family, children can become withdrawn and upset.

Being able to talk to someone other than a parent is sometimes very helpful for children. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers or even a counsellor can all offer support.

Look for clues in their play

Children express themselves through play as well as words. You can learn a lot about how they’re feeling by simply spending time with them and watching them play.

Stressed and upset children often play fighting games with their toys. Comment on this by saying, “There are a lot of fights going on” or “It seems pretty frightening”. This can help to get them talking about what’s bothering them.

Even if you don’t start a conversation, you’ll be making the child feel more comfortable with you, paving the way for them to open up to you about their problems.

If you can get them talking, gently ask what’s wrong. But if the child doesn’t want to open up, let the subject go, then repeat the process at another time until they’re ready to tell you what’s bothering them.

If a child is too frightened to talk

If you’re worried that a child you know might be being abused at home, it can help to ask a question like, “Is mummy getting very cross with you? You can tell me about it if you want to”.

A child might not understand that they’re being abused. They may simply see it as a parent being angry or annoyed with them.

Children who are being sexually abused often don’t talk about it because they think it’s their fault or they have been convinced by their abuser that it is normal or a “special secret”.

Children will often ask if you’re going to tell anyone about what they’ve told you. Never promise not to tell, but explain that you’ll only tell other people who want to help.

If you suspect abuse, encourage them to call ChildLine** in the UK (0800 1111) or ring the NSPCC** yourself (0808 800 5000) in the U.K. and get advice about how to report it.

If a child is aggressive or misbehaving

If a child is fighting or being aggressive, they’re doing it for a good reason, and talking may help you discover the reason.

Start by telling the child that their bad behaviour is unacceptable and why – for example, because it will harm other people or get them into trouble. Then offer them the chance to talk about why they’re angry.

This might not work instantly because an angry child might not listen to you straight away. Don’t give up. Children are aware when they’re behaving badly, and it’s important to find out the reasons why.

If your child is grieving

Young children don’t always understand what death means. It helps to explain it by saying, “Nana’s died. She’s not going to be with us any more”.

Watch children carefully if someone close to them has died. If they seem tearful or withdrawn, encourage them to open up about how they’re feeling by talking about the person who’s died.

You could say something like, “It’s very sad that Nana has died” or “I feel sad that Nana has died, and sometimes it’s hard to understand why people die”.

If you’re still worried about your child

If you are still concerned about your child after talking to them, see your GP (*physician) for further advice.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

** Resources outside the U.K.:

NHS Choices logo


From www.nhs.uk





Is Your Teenager In An Abusive Relationship? You CAN Help!

Violence can happen in teenage relationships, so make sure you know the signs and can help your child.

Abuse in relationships – including those between teenagers – can happen to men and boys, but it’s much more likely to happen to women and girls. It also happens in same-sex relationships.

Different types of abuse

Physical abuse can include hitting, kicking, punching, slapping, pushing, and pressuring or forcing someone into sexual activity.

Emotional and verbal abuse involves a person:

  • saying things that make their partner feel small or stupid
  • pressuring their partner to do things they don’t want to do, including sexual things
  • checking up on their partner – for instance, by text – all the time to find out where they are and who they’re with
  • threatening to hurt their partner or someone close to their partner, including pets

Warning signs your teen is being abused

Signs of abuse can include your child:

  • no longer hanging out with their circle of friends
  • not doing as well at school, or skipping school altogether
  • constantly checking their phone
  • being withdrawn and quieter than usual
  • being angry and becoming irritable when asked how they’re doing
  • making excuses for their boyfriend or girlfriend
  • having unexplained scratches or bruises
  • showing changes in mood or personality
  • using drugs or alcohol

Warning signs your teen’s partner is abusive

It’s a sign of controlling or violent behaviour if your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend:

  • gets extremely jealous
  • monitors texts, messages, calls and emails, and gets angry if there isn’t an instant response
  • has trouble controlling his or her emotions, particularly anger
  • stops your child seeing or talking with friends and family as much as they’d like
  • uses force during an argument
  • blames others for his or her problems or feelings
  • is verbally abusive
  • shows threatening behaviour towards others

How to help

  • Talk to your child about what’s OK and what’s not in a relationship. Some teenagers believe violence is “just the way things are”, or is “just messing around”.
    • Make sure they understand that violent or controlling behaviour is not OK, and that nobody should put up with it.
  • Some girls believe that if their boyfriend gets jealous or checks up on them, it means he loves them.
    • Let your teenage girl know that this kind of behaviour is not about love or romance, it’s about control and her boyfriend making her behave in the way he wants.
  • Some boys might believe that controlling their girlfriend’s behaviour makes them more of a man.
    • Make sure your teenage boy knows that using violence does not make someone a man.

Talking tips

Before you start the conversation with your teenager, think through what your concerns are.

Consider talking about it confidentially with someone like your GP (*doctor) or a friend. This will help you understand your own feelings so you won’t be too emotional when you talk to your child.

Try not to talk to your teenager in a confrontational way. Say you’re worried about them and ask if everything’s OK.

Even if they don’t talk to you at this point, they might go away and think about things, and talk to you later.

Show your support

Tell your child they can always come to you, no matter what.

Victims of abuse can feel ashamed and believe (wrongly) that the abuse is their fault. Make it clear that being abused is never your child’s fault, and you will help them if they come to you.

You can also tell them about helplines, such as ChildLine (0800 11 11)** or the NSPCC (0808 800 5000)** in the UK, which they can call if they don’t feel they can talk to you.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

** Resources in the United States

NHS Choices logo


From www.nhs.uk





Study: ‘Traumatic Childhoods’ Linked to Early Death as Adults

“Traumatic childhoods increase the risk of death before the age of 50 by up to 80%,” reports the Mail Online.

The news is based on research that followed children born during one week in 1958 to see whether they died prematurely (before a ge 50) and to see what adverse events they went through as children.

boy crying while parents fight in backgroundThe researchers looked at childhood adverse experiences as reported by parents and teachers when the children were 7, 11 and 16 years of age. These bad experiences included spending time in (foster*) care, suffering from neglect, parental separation, or having a family member in prison. The researchers also took into account factors such as socioeconomic status and lifestyle during childhood and when people were young adults.

Give children the best start in life

Children can’t help their circumstances. Whatever their background and experiences, one of the best things you can do for your child is to have them vaccinated against the common childhood diseases.

These often potentially fatal diseases, such as measles, can be prevented simply by a free injection available from the NHS.

Find out when to get your child vaccinated at your local GP practice.

Overall, adverse childhood experiences were associated with a higher risk of death before 50. For those who had suffered two adverse experiences, this risk was 57% higher for men and 80% higher for women, compared to those with no such experiences.

If there is a true link, we still don’t know the exact reasons. The researchers speculate that adverse events change the way the brain is wired or that people who have experienced adversity develop short-term coping strategies that lead to long-term health damage. However, this can’t be proved by the current study. It may be that as yet unaccounted for factors explain the link between adverse events and premature mortality.

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from INSERM (The French National Institute for health and medical research) and other French and British research organisations and universities. It was funded by the French Institut National du Cancer and the Institut de recherche en santé publique and La Ligue nationale contre le cancer.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Epidemiology.

The Mail Online mostly reported the results of this study accurately. However, it’s headline cherry-picked the highest premature mortality figures (those of women experiencing two or more adverse life variables). The coverage also failed to mention the limitations of the study design (although the study was large and used the most appropriate study design, cohort studies cannot show causation, only association).

What kind of research was this?

This was a cohort study. It examined whether events causing stress responses during childhood are linked to premature mortality – defined in this study as death before 50 years of age.

This is the ideal study design to investigate this issue, although it cannot prove that events causing stress responses during childhood cause premature mortality, as other factors, called confounders, could be responsible for any association seen.

What did the research involve?

The researchers used results from 7,816 men and 7,405 women who were part of a cohort study of people born during one week in 1958 in Great Britain (the 1958 National Child Development Study).

Information was collected when people were 7, 11, 16, 23, 33, 42, 46, and 50 years of age.

Childhood adverse experiences were reported by parents and teachers at 7, 11 and 16 years of age. The following were counted as adverse experiences:

  • Being put into (foster*) care by age 7, 11 or 16
  • Physical neglect, including being undernourished or dirty at ages 7 or 11
  • Having a family member in prison or on probation (at age 11) or in contact with the probation services (age seven or all) or being imprisoned or on probation at age 16
  • Being separated from their father or mother due to death, divorce or separation at 7, 11 or 16 years of age
  • Having a family member with a mental illness at ages 7, 11 or 16 or having someone in the household in contact with the mental health services at ages 7 or 11
  • Having a family member with an alcohol abuse problem at seven years of age

Deaths were monitored through death certificates. The researchers looked at the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and death before 50 years of age after controlling for “early life variables” and for characteristics at 23 years of age. These early life variables included:

  • Mother’s age at birth
  • The number of people per household
  • Whether the mother’s partner was employed in manual or non-manual labour
  • Mother’s educational level
  • Maternal smoking during pregnancy
  • Gender
  • Gestational age at birth
  • How many pregnancies the mother had previously had
  • Birth weight
  • Breastfeeding
  • Congenital conditions
  • Moderate/severe disabilities
  • Chronic respiratory or circulatory conditions
  • Sensory impairments
  • Special schooling

Characteristics at 23 years of age included:

  • Educational attainment
  • Occupational social class
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking status
  • Body mass index (BMI)

What were the basic results?

  • In the cohort, 70% of people had experienced no adverse childhood experiences, 22% had experienced one adverse childhood experience and 8% had experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences. Between the ages of 16 and 50 4.1% of men and 2.4% of women died.
  • In men, the risk of death was 57% higher among those who had experienced two or more adversities compared to those men who had experienced none (hazard ratio (HR) 1.57, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.13 to 2.18).
  • In women, the risk of premature mortality increased with increasing number of adverse experiences. Women with one childhood adverse experience had a 66% increased risk of death (HR 1.66, 95% CI 1.19 to 2.33) and women who had had two or more had an 80% increased risk (HR 1.80, 95% CI 1.10 to 2.95) compared to women who had had none.

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers conclude that the results, “point towards early life stressful events, particularly in a child’s [family] environment, being risk factors for long term health across the lifecourse and premature mortality possibly via the mechanisms of biological embedding which may occur via social, neuro-cognitive or behavioural pathways.”

Conclusion

This large cohort study found that (after taking into account early life and young adult sociological and lifestyles) being exposed to adverse childhood events was associated with an increased risk of premature death.

In men, having two or more adverse childhood experiences was associated with a 57% higher risk of death by age 50, compared to men who had none. In women, one childhood adverse experience was associated with a 66% increased risk of death, two or more was associated with an 80% increased risk of death by age 50, compared to women who’d had none.

Although the study was large, collected data as it went along (prospectively), and used the most appropriate study design, cohort studies cannot show causation, only association. And as this was a long-term cohort study, it had to deal with a significant amount of missing data. It did this by assuming that data was missing at random.

If there is a true link between adverse events in childhood and premature death, the reasons for this remain unknown. The researchers suggest that childhood exposure to adverse experiences could affect brain or other biological system development. Or, they suggest, it could encourage behaviours which reduce stress in the short-term but increase mortality in the long-term. However, this is speculative.

It is possible that the study has not been able to fully account for all health-related or environmental factors that could be associated with both adverse events and premature death, and it could be these that influence the relationship.

Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter.

Summary

“Traumatic childhoods increase the risk of death before the age of 50 by up to 80%,” reports the Mail Online. The news is based on research that followed children born during one week in 1958.

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Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

 



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