California's First Surgeon General: Screen Every Student for Childhood Trauma

"One thing that tipped me off was the number of kids being sent to me by schools"

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has an ambitious dream: screen every student for childhood trauma before entering school, NBC News reported.

"A school nurse would also get a note from a physician that says: 'Here is the care plan for this child's toxic stress. And this is how it shows up,'" said Burke Harris, who was appointed California's first surgeon general in January.

"It could be it shows up in tummy aches. Or it's impulse control and behavior, and we offer a care plan. Instead of reacting harshly and punitively, every educator is trained in recognizing these things. Instead of suspending and expelling or saying, 'What's wrong with you?' we say, 'What happened to you?'" 

Burke Harris has dedicated her career to changing the way society responds to childhood trauma, which research has shown affects brain development and creates lifelong health problems.

"This involves public education, routine screening to enable early detection and early intervention, and cross-sector coordinated care," she said at a hearing on providing care in schools held by the House Committee on Education and Labor in September. "The opportunity ahead of us is about a true intersection of health care and education."

A study on youth trauma, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACES, was a landmark when it was published in 1998 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente. The study specified 10 categories of stressful or traumatic childhood events, including abuse, parental incarceration, and divorce or parental separation; its research showed that sustained stress caused biochemical changes in the brain and body and drastically increased the risk of developing mental illness and health problems.

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