Serving Monroe, Owen, and Greene Counties

Unteachable & Difficult: Understanding Childhood Trauma

“You’ve each been given a magic wand to address the issue of childhood trauma. The catch is, you can only pick one thing. What would you pick that would have the biggest impact on this issue?”  

Panelists explored this and other questions posed by the audience at the July 11th Wake Up! With United Way which focused on "Unteachable and Difficult - Understanding Childhood Trauma.”  

Jerry M. Jesseph, M.D., Ph.D., Clinical Professor with the IU School of Medicine offered his response to the posed question. “Education,” he said. “If we educate ourselves, it’s pretty obvious what to do. We reach out. We look for vulnerable people in our communities. We put our efforts there,” Jesseph added. He noted the Kids with Absent Parents (KAP) Program as being a prime example of getting the community involved and proactive about the issue. 

Jeff Baldwin, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington agreed with Jesseph and elaborated on his answer. “The magic wand,” he gestured with his hand, “is getting society to move and shift in a completely different way in thinking across the board on the importance of taking a child from birth to productive, healthy adulthood.” 

Questions submitted by the audience were posed to the panelists by moderator Sherrie Shuler, United Way of Monroe County’s Resource Development Director. Mark Fraley, Assistant Director of Political and Civic Engagement (PACE) at IU Bloomington, introduced the topic and welcomed everyone. More than 30 community members – including city and county elected officials - gathered bright and early to hear what the speakers had to say as well as have their questions answered.  

The panel then explored the question of what characteristics make some people more resilient when it comes to childhood trauma. 

Jacek Kolacz, Ph.D., Assistant Research Scientist with The Traumatic Stress Research Consortium (TSRC) Kinsey Institute Indiana University discussed the necessity of human connections when handling stressful and potentially traumatic situations. “Having someone there that cares about us can help co-regulate us, co-regulate our threat responses,” he stated. 

Kaitlin King, LCSW, Senior Clinical Therapist at Catholic Charities Bloomington, similarly stressed the importance of human connection, which starts as early as conception. “That prenatal attachment between mom and child is huge, and so even in those very early weeks of gestation if that mom is stressed or unattached to that baby, that will have a huge impact on their brain development in-utero and even after they’re born,” King stressed. 

The discussion moved into prevention of trauma. Jesseph described how prevention, one of the four roles of medicine, is often expressed as ‘don’ts,’ “don’t eat sugar, don’t smoke,” but that it doesn’t do enough to target the root of the cause of the issue. This is a problem he has seen for a long time, expressing his dismay in a metaphor, “As I’ve said in the past, I spend my time pulling people out of the river when I really should be going upstream to find out who’s pushing them in.” 

King, referring to her previous comments about prenatal trauma, queried, “Is early childhood prevention, prevention?” In other words, potential issues could start even before birth since trauma can be experienced at any point after conception.  

As the discussion began to wind down, Jesseph asked the audience to join him in a deep breathing exercise to demonstrate that there are things we can do right this second to make ourselves, and those around us, feel better and cope with everyday stress.  

Trauma, as all panelists expressed, is often best healed with others rather than in isolation. King and Baldwin both specifically advocated for youth to join peer groups to discuss their personal traumas, with the latter ending the panel discussion by introducing a new mentorship program called Boys to Men set to begin this year. 

The next Wake Up! with United Way breakfast panel will examine “Autism Spectrum Disorder: What to Know” Thursday, August 8th at BloomingTea (615 W Kirkwood Ave.)  Tickets and more info here >>

Wake Up! with United Way is a collaborative project of United Way of Monroe County and Indiana University's Political and Civic Engagement Program, with thanks to Old National Bank for series support. 

Want to learn more about topics discussed related to childhood trauma? Check out these links to learn more in-depth info.
Session handouts:

Society for Research in Child Development: As research in human development expands, the need for coordination and integration among the disciplines grows. The Society is constantly working to facilitate such coordination and integration and to assist in the dissemination of research findings.


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