© 2023 WGLT
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Experts Zero In On Childhood Trauma At Women To Women Giving Circle Event

High-fiving a kid
Julio Cortez
A student holistic specialist high-fives a child during a group session in a "peace room" at New Song Community Learning Center in West Baltimore. In Baltimore, there's been a growing realization that levels of youthful trauma are alarmingly high.

The long tail of childhood trauma will come into focus Wednesday at a Women to Women Giving Circle fall forum featuring two local leaders working on the issue.

Confronting childhood trauma is the featured topic at the forum from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday at Illinois State University’s Alumni Center. The panelists are Doris Houston, interim director of the School of Social Work at ISU; and Brenda Tempke, attorney and guardian ad litem for children in the abuse and neglect courtrooms in McLean County. Retired educator Judy Donze will moderate the event.

There are between 200 and 300 children involved in the local child welfare system, Tempke said. And around 100% of them have some history with trauma, she said.

That can be abuse and neglect, or an alcoholic parent, or a family member in jail, or a mother who’s a domestic violence survivor.

“The effects of that trauma, particularly if it’s compounded, really impacts a child’s ability to functional socially, emotionally, intellectually, etc.,” said Houston, who also directs ISU’s Center for Child Welfare and Adoption Studies.

Childhood trauma leads to both short-term and long-term problems if left unaddressed. Girls and women face unique challenges, Houston and Tempke said, given their outsized parenting role in many households. Tempke said partner abuse can impact a mother’s ability to parent and cope in general.

“It’s insidious,” she said.

Trauma research has advanced significant in recently years, Houston and Tempke said, providing compelling new reasons to view troubled children through the “lens of trauma.” The term Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is now widely known; you can even take an ACE quiz to look inward.

Schools, social service organizations, and the courts are “doing their best” but have a “long way to go” in taking childhood trauma into full account in their day-to-day practices, Tempke said.

“Just the awareness of it is a huge step forward,” Tempke said. “A lot of it comes to down to funding, and not having the resources needed to provide the counseling that’s needed, or the follow-up services that are needed. So we’re doing the best we can with the limited resources we have.”

Children can bounce back from trauma if they’re surrounded by “caring adults and if they have those protective mechanisms within their schools, their communities, and their extended family” that can mediate the effects of trauma, Houston said. But creating those mechanisms is challenged by a lack of a resources; budget issues have cost Illinois many of its trauma-oriented services, Houston said.

“When there are not the adequate resources to be able to help practitioners in the schools to address the trauma, we’re really just using a Band-Aid approach,” she said. “As a society in general, we can do a lot better in terms of prioritizing the services for the children who’ve experienced trauma.”

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.