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Primary care providers are a critical gateway to address deeper, systemic issues in their communities, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

By: Shivani Mehta, MD, MPH, FAAP

The effects of what a child experiences in their first few years of life can set the stage for the rest of their life. Truly nurturing experiences with a loving parent or caregiver during this important time can help a child’s social-emotional development – a component of brain development that helps that child learn, form stable relationships, manage their feelings, and become resilient. 

When a child is raised in a challenging, high stress environment, they can better develop those social-emotional skills by being exposed to even more loving support from a parent or other caregiver. One of the best ways to engage with young children is looking at books together. Even the youngest baby loves to be held close and hear the voice of Mommy or Daddy or another loving adult, as they read a book aloud. 

Primary care providers are a critical gateway to address deeper, systemic issues in their communities, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The stress associated with ACEs has immediate and long-lasting effects, and has been associated with later-in-life risk-taking, unhealthy lifestyles, serious chronic disease as well as mental health concerns. 

Given the frequency of contact that primary care providers have with their patients in the first few years of life, the medical home is an ideal point of access for identifying, managing, and mitigating the effects of adverse childhood experiences. Providers use universal primary prevention strategies, like Reach Out and Read, to provide surveillance and early intervention for environmental stressors and promote parenting and social-emotional skill building. Providers also collaborate with and advocate for services that support parents. 

Reach Out and Read is a well-researched, clinic-based approach to forging intentional skill-building, resilience, and positive behavior change between children and parents. We know shared reading can help develop strong parent-child bonds that last a lifetime, potentially mitigating ACEs. Literacy is a critical skill, and early childhood is the critical stage for equipping children for a lifetime of success. 

 Learn more – Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime 

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Shivani Mehta, MD, MPH, FAAP
General Pediatrician
Charlotte, NC

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