We live in a victim-blaming and -shaming time, making it hard to talk about social issues and solutions.

Some blame teens for walking and being on their phone when a distracted driver crashes a 4,000-pound vehicle into them. Some blame teen girls for their clothing choices when a man forcefully denies their choice not to consent.

Some even blame at-risk youth for falling behind or dropping out of high school when they have grown up in traumatic environments.

Childhood trauma leaves lifelong wounds as children don’t automatically overcome these issues when they turn 18.

A new research review by Salud America!, a national network for healthy change at UT Health San Antonio, examined the latest science on childhood trauma and its effect on Latino youth, as well as policy recommendations to reduce the harmful effects of trauma, boost social and emotional health, and build school readiness.

Waiting for High School is Too Late

Traumatic experiences during early childhood, low participation in early education, and other factors have been shown to impair Latino children’s social and emotional development, academic achievement, and overall health and well-being into adulthood, according to the research review.

Adults who graduated high school have reduced risk for incarceration, greater financial stability throughout adulthood, and fewer mental and physical health problems; therefore, the population with a high school diploma is a common go-to indicator to predict adult outcomes.

However, as one of the most economically segregated cities in the nation, San Antonio faces major disparities within the population with a high school diploma.

Citywide, 18.5 percent of residents over the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma, which is higher than the national average of 13.3 percent. City Council District 3 (28.6 percent) and Council District 4 (27.9 percent) have more than double the national rate.

Decades of research and nationwide trends show that we need to intervene long before high school, particularly if we want to reduce gaps in academic achievement and reduce health disparities.

What we need to do is intervene before kindergarten.

Latino Children Suffer From Trauma

The new Salud America! research review shows that Latino youth (77.8 percent) are more likely than all youth (70 percent) to face “adverse childhood experiences” – poverty, neglect, abuse, or household dysfunction such as parental divorce, violence, substance abuse, mental health issues.

About 28 percent of Latino youth suffer four or more of these traumas.

Latino children exposed to many traumas tend to have higher obesity rates, health issues, anxiety, aggression, and substance use, as well as lower language, literacy, and math skills.

These effects can extend into adolescence and adulthood.

Screening for, identifying, and preventing adverse childhood experiences and helping youth overcome their harmful effects are critical for early child development.

Trauma-informed care and home visits can address and prevent adverse childhood experiences by providing Latino parents and early childcare providers with culturally relevant education and support to promote healthy, nurturing homes and childcare centers.

Trauma-Informed Care

“There is a lot of research linking childhood trauma to later obesity and diabetes,” said Kathy Fletcher, president and CEO of the nonprofit Voices for Children San Antonio. “We have so many young children experienc[ing] traumatic situations in this community, we have severe poverty, high incidence of domestic violence and child abuse, and violence in general in the community.”

However, many early childcare providers don’t always have the tools to give local kids the appropriate developmental care and services they need during their formative years.

Fletcher and many other local advocates are working to train the childcare workforce on trauma-informed care and more.

Trauma and the effects of trauma are also linked to poor attendance in school.

When children suffer childhood trauma, they fall behind their peers in academic, physical, and emotional development and face long-term health, employment, and financial consequences; but culturally sensitive programs and policies can reduce trauma and improve early childhood development, school readiness, emotional well-being, and health.

In addition to trauma-informed care, Latino children need access to quality early care and education.

Access to Quality Early Care

Childhood development is a dynamic, interactive process. In fact, 90 percent of brain development occurs before the age of 5.

That makes preschool a big factor in school success and overall health and well-being. Likely for that reason, San Antonio voters in 2012 approved a 0.125 cent tax increase for Pre-K 4 SA.

“There is a great need for culturally sensitive programs and policies to prevent trauma and improve education, health, and social and emotional development for Latinos in early childhood,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, lead author of the research review and director of Salud America! and the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio.

Breastfeeding and family support, Latino family values, medical homes, and access to healthy food and safe places to play also promote healthy early development.

Unstructured free play is essential for children’s emotional development and can protect against stress, anxiety, and depression in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Schools, childcare centers, and early education facilities are designing spaces to promote physical activity, such as green schoolyards and outdoor learning environments.

Beyond individual responsibility, public health, child health and equity advocates are looking to research to inform environmental, policy, and system changes to improve healthy childhood development.

Citizens may tell their community leaders and officials to invest in trauma-informed, quality early childcare and education at the following events:

Amanda Merck

Amanda Merck

Amanda Merck is a content curator/research area specialist for Salud America! at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. She also is a VIA board member.