Close to 100 individuals learned about the impact of poverty and trauma on the brain at the Sixth Annual SOS Child Abuse Prevention Summit held Tuesday. Frank Kros, president of The Upside Down Organization, executive vice president of The Children’s Guild and director of the Nation At-Risk Education Network, was the presenter.
Kros presents training workshops nationwide to parents, educators and child-serving professionals. He covered various topics, including brain-based learning, aggressive and violent behaviors, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and neuroscience of the brain.
Kros began the day defining what constitutes child abuse or child maltreatment. He acknowledged four types of child maltreatment: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. Additionally, events that do not involve maltreatment but can be very traumatic to children experiencing them were death of a parent, sibling or caretaker; separation from parents; relocation; and disasters. Kros says that all traumatic events have an impact on the brain.
“Whether that trauma comes from abuse or whether it comes from poverty, it impacts the brain,” Kros said. “What we have learned from neuroscience is the effect on the brain is the same.”
A child’s brain can be affected in two big ways when a child experiences trauma. First, the child’s stress response system is exaggerated and prolonged, releasing very high levels of cortisol into the system. Second, the child’s brain can actually change, resulting in a smaller corpus callossum, smaller hippocampus, larger, more active amygdala and smaller, less active frontal lobes.
“The stress chemical called cortisol gets really high,” Kros said. “When it gets really high, that effects a child’s learning ability. The very organ that does our memory-making dies, the cells are killed by that excess stress chemical. When traumatic levels of stress happen, you have damage to your learning ability.”
Many of those in attendance work in local schools as counselors, teachers and social workers. Kros says much is needed to provide an optimal learning environment for children.
“There are a couple of important things that need to happen for children to be able to learn deeply,” Kros said. “First of all, they have to be physically safe, you have to be emotionally safe, you have to be well fed and hydrated, you can’t be too hot or too cold and you cannot be in too much pain. Creating safe and welcoming classrooms in schools is our first challenge.”
SOS envisions a community in which every man, woman and child lives without fear of interpersonal violence. The Child Abuse Prevention Summit is held each year in an effort to educate community members about the impact of trauma and ways to prevent abuse.
“We have had a wonderful turnout today,” Connie Cahoone, executive director of SOS said. “Frank is a wonderful presenter; it has been very informative.”