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NM Kids Count Conference to Focus on Childhood Trauma

Children who experience a high number of adverse childhood experiences increase their risk of experiencing adult alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide, with children of color facing the highest risk. (neatoday.org)
Children who experience a high number of adverse childhood experiences increase their risk of experiencing adult alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide, with children of color facing the highest risk. (neatoday.org)
October 29, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. — Research shows when children have a high number of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, they’re likely to struggle more as adults. Solutions to childhood trauma will be addressed at the second annual Northern New Mexico Kids Count Conference in Santa Fe next week.

New Mexico children suffer one of the highest rates of childhood poverty and trauma, according to the state's Kids Count organization. Conference speaker Marilyn Bruguier Zimmerman, co-principal investigator and senior director of policy programs at the National Native Children's Trauma Center, said if the state hopes to make changes, addressing ACEs must be a priority.

"Because very often, people - to cope with their symptoms - will engage in behaviors like smoking cigarettes, using drugs to numb ourselves, using alcohol,” Bruguier Zimmerman said. “ACEs increases the likelihood of suicidality."

In addition to the keynote address, Bruguier Zimmerman also will lead a session called "The Impact of Historical and Contemporary Trauma on American Indian Children, Youth and Adults." Families, service providers, advocates and policymakers statewide are encouraged to attend the conference on Tuesday, November 5, at Santa Fe Community College.

Bruguier Zimmerman studies the impact of colonization on American Indian and Alaska tribes' well-being, including historical grief over the loss of language, culture, land and spirituality. Despite challenges in New Mexico, she noted communities often have the tools to improve children's well-being. She said most kids bounce back from traumatic events - but their resiliency can be exhausted.

“Resiliency erodes,” she said. “For example, maybe the child lost their mother when they were in sixth grade, but they do well; and then they were sexually assaulted in 8th grade, and they're still doing well. But when they're a sophomore in high school, they get kicked off a basketball team and then suddenly, they're having suicidal thoughts."

The prolonged impact of adverse childhood experiences was first recognized in the early 1990s. ACEs can be triggered by parental divorce or imprisonment, poverty, witnessing violence, or living with someone with an untreated mental illness. The accumulation of ACEs can increase the chances for adult alcoholism, drug abuse and multiple chronic diseases.

Disclosure: New Mexico Voices for Children/KIDS COUNT contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Human Rights/Racial Justice, Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM