Protective Factors: Reducing Brain Damage from Toxic Stress

by Guest Bloggers Nikki Zellin, Jill Hyunh, and Connie Harrison of Beech Acres Parenting Center

Sports!  We are a county passionate about our sports teams & in support of our athletes. Despite this devotion, it has taken decades to understand the effect of small but repeated trauma to the head and how it impacts the brain.

Simply put, the human brain is a fascinating and mysterious organ. In the past few years, science has penetrated some of its mysteries. While some scientists have focused on sports & concussions, other scientific groups, such as the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, have decided to start at the beginning.

It has been determined that at birth, the brain is fully formed, but not “wired up” or connected.  All children start out on the same promising path to their future.  Unfortunately, over one third of them are unlucky enough to have a dramatic & sometimes tragic obstacle(s) dropped in their promising path.  This could be abuse, divorce or food /housing uncertainty.  Scientists call that imposing obstacle, ‘toxic stress’.  They’ve proven if that obstacle blocks the child’s promising path long enough… it literally rewires their brain causing long-term effects on their ability to learn & demonstrate self-control.  You can imagine the impact to home, school & the community when these 2 aptitudes are impaired.

Fortunately, research is providing information on ways to repair some of the damage caused by toxic stress. It can be done with Protective Factors.  Protective Factors in a family provide a buffer that reduces the brain damage caused by toxic stress, and helps it heal after a stressful situation.  Protective Factors include nurturing relationships between parents & children, social connections for the whole family and concrete support in times of need.

Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton County (MHRS) is funding a new program, Parent Connext.  Born out of a partnership between Beech Acres Parenting Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to remove obstacles in children’s path causing toxic stress.  Parent Connext is a program where Parenting Specialists are available inside Pediatric offices, including Landon Lake in Mason, OH.  They are available to connect parents to community resources and provide at least one clear next step in any parenting challenges.  Giving families a chance to create the Protect Factors needed to help kids overcome toxic stress and live up to their full potential.