What We Know From Science

The first months and years of a child's life are a critical time for brain development. In the absence of responsive caregiving - or if caregiving responses are unreliable or inappropriate - the brain's architecture does not form as expected, which can lead to disparities in learning and behavior.

Toxic stress weakens the architecture of the developing brain, which can lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health. Toxic stress can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity - such as physical or emotional abuse and chronic neglect - without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.

Experiencing childhood trauma - including being the victim of child abuse and neglect - is associated with increased risk of health and psycho-social problems later in life: alcoholism and alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, depression, intimate partner violence, adolescent pregnancy, unintended pregnancies, liver disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ischemic heart disease, and more.