How Brain Development and Trauma are Linked
Science tells us that the foundations of sound mental health are built early in life. Early experiences—including children’s relationships with parents, caregivers, relatives, teachers, and peers—interact with genes to shape the architecture of the developing brain. Disruptions in this developmental process can impair a child’s capacities for learning and relating to others, with lifelong implications. 
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are negative, stressful, traumatizing events that occur before the age of 18 and confer health risk across the lifespan. The 10 best studied ACEs are divided into the umbrellas of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. These experiences create toxic stress. Children with ongoing, unmitigated toxic stress develop patterns of maladaptive behaviours and physiological disruptions that compromise health over the lifespan. 
FACTS AND STATS
- Before the age of 18, 27.2% experienced abuse and 49.1% experienced family dysfunction.
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) rarely occur in isolation. Having one ACE increases the probability of experiencing another one by 84%.
- Children who experienced more ACEs were more likely to be diagnosed with mental health conditions or substance dependence in adulthood.
- Children who experienced more ACEs were more likely to perceive their physical health, emotional health, and social support as poor.
- The association between ACEs and poor health remained strong even when other risk factors for poor adult health outcomes, such as poverty, were taken into consideration.
- Children who experienced both abuse and family dysfunction had the highest risk for negative health outcomes in adulthood. 
Why is It Important?
Toxic stress, which is the result of strong, frequent, and/or prolonged biological responses to adversity, can damage the architecture of the developing brain and increase the likelihood of significant mental health problems that may emerge either quickly or years later. Because of its enduring effects on brain development and other organ systems, toxic stress can impair school readiness, academic achievement, and both physical and mental health in children and, later, adults. Life circumstances associated with family stress, such as persistent poverty, threatening neighborhoods, and very poor child care conditions elevate the risk of serious mental health problems. Young children who experience recurrent abuse or chronic neglect, domestic violence, or parental mental health or substance abuse problems are particularly vulnerable.
Some individuals demonstrate remarkable capacities to overcome the severe challenges of early, persistent maltreatment, trauma, and emotional harm, yet there are limits to the ability of young children to recover psychologically from such adversity. Even when children have been removed from traumatizing circumstances and placed in exceptionally nurturing homes, developmental improvements are often accompanied by continuing problems in self-regulation, emotional adaptability, relating to others, and self-understanding. When children overcome these burdens, they have typically been the beneficiaries of exceptional efforts on the part of supportive adults. These findings underscore the importance of prevention and timely intervention in circumstances that put young children at serious psychological risk. 
What Does It Look Like?
Complex trauma can adversely affect children in a multitude of ways:
- Attachment and Relationships – difficulty developing strong healthy attachment and relationships
- Physical Health – development of chronic or recurrent physical complaints, such as headaches or stomach aches. Adults with histories of trauma in childhood have been shown to have more chronic physical conditions and problems
- Emotional Responses – difficulty calming down when upset, feeling overwhelmed, intense emotional responses to triggers
- Dissociation – mentally separate themselves from the experience as a defense mechanism. Dissociation can affect a child’s ability to be fully present in activities of daily life and can significantly fracture a child’s sense of time and continuity
- Behaviour – difficulty with self-regulation, impulse control, may appear unpredictable, oppositional, volatile, and extreme or overcontrolled, rigid and unusually compliant with adults.
- Cognition – problems thinking clearly, reasoning, or problem solving. show deficits in language development and abstract reasoning skills thus affecting academic success. 
See Brain Development Impact of Trauma in the Mental Health Training Framework document
Mental Health Training Framework
Building Community Resilience: Coalition Building and Communications Guide
This guide provides an approach to collaboration that addresses adverse childhood experiences and adverse community experiences. Developed by Spitfire Strategies and the Centre for Health Care in Schools and Aspen Institute.
Centre for Disease Control
This website contains a variety to resources on child abuse and neglect, ACEs, protective and risk factors, prevention strategies.
Community Resilience Initiative (CRI)
Website offers resources and videos related to ACES, trauma informed practice, with a focus on resilience.
The Miyo Resource is an Indigenous approach to child and family well-being service delivery and evaluation.
This CDC website includes tools and resources pertaining to the impact of all types of violence within communities. Of particular interest are the Principles of Prevention and Resiliency Factor Guide.
Well-Being and Resiliency: A Framework for Supporting Safe and Healthy Children and Families
This Alberta Children Services Framework in part aims to support protective factors for healthy brain development. Has an accompanying evaluation framework.
Brain Architecture Game
The Brain Architecture Game is a tabletop game experience that builds understanding of the powerful role of experiences on early brain development – what promotes it, what derails it, with what consequences for society. (COST: USD $99 for package)
Childhood Trauma Toolkit for Educators
National Childhood Trauma Stress Network provides school administrators, teachers, staff, and concerned parents with basic information about working with traumatized children in the school system.
Portico Childhood Trauma Toolkit
Childhood Trauma toolkit offers resources to pediatric clinicians to assess, understand and develop treatment plans for children and youth and their families.
Alberta Family Wellness Initiative
The website contains a videos and podcasts on a wide range of topics including brain architecture, ACEs, Resilience, Stress.
Resilience: Biology of Stress and Science of Hope (documentary)
A one-hour documentary that delves into the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the birth of a new movement to treat and prevent Toxic Stress. (COST: US$395 DVD ; US$175 Digital 1 yr rental)
Circle of Security-Core Sensitivities
Circle of Security International offers this seminar which focuses on the correlation between core sensitivities and insecurity as described within attachment research; the intergenerational nature of each core sensitivity and how sub-sets of insecurity can be transmitted between parent and child; issues of vigilance within each core sensitivity regarding: autonomy,
N.E.A.R Sciences: Understanding the relationship between Neuroscience, Epigenetics, Adverse Childhood Experiences and Resilience.
Imagine Institute for Learning offers a full-day learning immersion which will introduce participants to the neuroscience and epigenetics of brain development, the impacts of ACEs on brain architecture and human development as well as the hope of resilience. (1-day) Competency: Knowledge, Behavioural, Activating Audience: All Cost: $110
Brain Story Certification
The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative’s new course has been streamlined and is more concise, but continues to provide a deeper understanding of brain development and its connection to addiction and mental health. The course now includes a new bibliography, a new glossary, an improved navigation system, updated videos and reflective
Developmental Pathways of Addiction and Mental Health
This AHS Mental Health and Addictions Learning Series offers a web- based interactive e-Learning curriculum designed to support healthcare providers to enhance their practice working with children, youth and their families experiencing addiction and mental health issues. The focus of these modules is to help health providers recognize and reduce
Principles of Prevention Training
The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) introduces users to the fundamental aspects of violence and violence prevention. This valuable training explains the key concepts of primary prevention, the CDC’s role and public health approach, and the use of the social ecological model for violence prevention. (5 modules, 90 minutes total)
- Centre for the Developing Child, Harvard University. InBrief: Early Childhood Mental Health. Retrieved from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-early-childhood-mental-health-video/
- The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. What are ACEs? Retrieved from https://www.albertafamilywellness.org/what-we-know/aces
- Policy Wise. (2013). Alberta Adverse Childhood Experience Survey. Retrieved from https://policywise.com/wp- content/uploads/resources/2016/07/345_ALBERTA_ADVERSE_CHILDHOOD_EXPERIENCES_SURVEY_FINAL_JULY_2014.pdf
- Center on the Developing Child (2013). Early Childhood Mental Health (InBrief). Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Effects of Complex Trauma. Retrieved from https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child- trauma/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects