Confronting Childhood Trauma in Neighborhoods of Poverty and Color

ConfrontingChildhoodTrauma1More than 70 community professionals ttended the forum, “Confronting Childhood Trauma in Neighborhoods of Poverty and Color,” on Feb. 29 at Vision for Children at Risk. The forum was presented by the St. Louis Regional Early Childhood Council.

VisionForChildrenAtRiskThe program began with viewing of the “Wounded Places” segment of “The Raising of America” series, describing childhood trauma and toxic stress. The video shared the stories of individuals in Philadelphia and Oakland who have been traumatized and experienced toxic stress from living in neighborhoods where shootings, fear, poverty and uncertainty were prevalent. Several had permanent injuries or paralysis as gunshot victims themselves.

ConfrontingChildhoodTrauma2Following the video, a discussion was led by Nancy Spargo, AM, LCSW, chief executive officer and co-founder, St. Louis Center for Family Development, and chair of the Regional Early Childhood Council’s Public Awareness & Advocacy Committee.

Among Nancy’s points:

  • Post-traumatic stress is very treatable.
  • Most individuals who have experienced trauma do not develop PTSD, and are more frequently diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
  • Toxic stress is the result of ongoing stressors such as poverty and violence that cannot be remedied by the individual. This derails typical child development and can impact the architecture of the brain, which creates a lifelong impact.
  • Parents can be ill-equipped to deal with trauma in their children, because they are in “fight or flight” mode themselves.
  • The best single antidote for trauma and toxic stress is relationships. Healthy, consistent, affirming relationships promote healthy brain development, social skills and resiliency.

ConfrontingChildhoodTrauma3Participants explored topics more specifically in breakout sessions. Following are suggestions offered from the breakout discussions:

  • Impact of toxic stress on service delivery: Providers can experience burnout due to continuous needs that surpass available resources. In Family Court juvenile detention, find youth in constant state of adversity; many violate probation just to get a room or a meal. Lots of needs, no simple answers.
  • Opportunities in programming: Impact the adults around the children—parents, teachers, principals.
  • Supporting employees who work in trauma care: Provide training, supervisor maintains close relationship to monitor workforce, make sure staff takes vacations.
  • Accounting for childhood adversity in designing service delivery: Get input from the people involved.

Information was shared about several related services available in the community:

  • ConfrontingChildhoodTrauma4Maternal, Child & Family Health Coalition has a Perinatal Resource Network with mental health services. Information:
  • Alive & Well STL is working to make St. Louis a trauma-informed community. Information: Emily Luft,,
  • Missouri Department of Mental Health offers training in trauma and toxic stress; funding is available for evidence-based trauma treatment. Information: Emily Koenig, Missouri Dept. of Mental Health,