Jan. 25 2018

Trauma-Free NYC Launches with Talk and Book Signing With Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

The pediatrician and leader in the movement to address toxic stress in children speaks at a Columbia University event  

A talk and book signing with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, author of The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Terms Effects of Childhood Adversity, launched Trauma-Free NYC, a Columbia University-wide effort to create a “trauma-informed city.” Dr. Burke Harris described how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress can lead to lifelong health problems, and what can be done to break the cycle. The book was released to the Columbia community at a campus-wide event on January 22nd at the Italian Academy on the Morningside campus in advance of its publication.
A world-renowned pediatrician, Dr. Burke Harris is the founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, an organization working to transform pediatric medicine and the way society responds to children who have experienced trauma and challenging situations early in their life. ACEs, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control, can include witnessing domestic violence, being a victim of child abuse or neglect, and even parental separation or divorce.

“Neuroscientists, including at Columbia University, have made powerful discoveries about the negative impact early childhood adversity has on a person’s brain and through that, on their well-being throughout life,” said Virginia Rauh, ScD, professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, who co-leads Trauma-Free NYC and introduced Dr. Burke Harris. “The goal of our initiative is to work with city government and a diverse range of stakeholders—health professionals, community organizations, and the faith community, among others—to put that science to work for our city.”

The event was sponsored by Mailman’s Child Health Initiative for Learning and Development (CHILD), the Columbia University Center for Science and Society, and Trauma-Free NYC, a university-community partnership. Trauma-Free NYC aims to increase public awareness of ACEs; serve as a resource for the creation of a cross-sector coalition; promote research and demonstration activities; and design educational, training, and service learning programs in trauma-informed practices for the wider NYC community.
“It is so fitting—and exciting— to announce the launch of Trauma-Free NYC by having Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a leader in the effort to understand how adverse childhood experiencesand toxic stress have lifelong health effects,” said Renée Wilson-Simmons, DrPH, director of the Mailman School’s National Center for Children in Poverty, who moderated a Q&A with Dr. Burke Harris following her presentation. “Dr. Burke Harris is a pioneer in the treatment of toxic stress and her book, The Deepest Well, is a landmark in the literature of childhood adversity.  She’s a powerful storyteller who describes her journey of discovery in understanding and addressing ACEs.”

Dr. Burke Harris shared insights from The Deepest Well and discussed the impact of ACEs on our brains and bodies, highlighting promising interventions to prevent and mitigate trauma’s effects. She was presented with the first Trauma-Free NYC Trailblazer Award for her leadership in this movement.

“Chronic stress crosses socioeconomic lines, can be long-lasting and is transmitted from generation to generation. Children, with their developing brains, are particularly affected by toxic stress,” noted Dr. Burke Harris, whose research found that 51 percent of children with three or more adverse effects had learning issues. Other known effects include increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, substance abuse, involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice system, and suicidality.

“Until recently, few pediatricians were asking their patients questions about toxic stress and adverse experiences,” said Dr. Burke Harris. “But that has changed, and now that we know its root causes, they need to screen their patients and apply the research to improve children’s health. What is currently a movement should become standard medical practice. And to sustain our movement, we need to build networks—like Trauma-Free NYC.”

“Whatever your age, it’s never too late to address overactive toxic stress,” stated Dr. Burke Harris. “This work is my absolute passion.”