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Charlotte Amalie
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Best Beginnings Conference Will Look for Causes, Solutions of Behavior Problems

Anyone who has raised, cared for, taught or otherwise worked with young children knows that their behaviors can at times be puzzling, frustrating, and even exasperating,

What else would we expect from them when their ability to think of what they want to do far exceeds what they are actually capable of doing, and they have yet to master basic self-regulation and social skills.

Even as adults, we all have these moments. Apart from the normal challenges that come with growing up, however, there is an increasing concern about the numbers of young children with “challenging” or problem behaviors. Indeed, in a staggering statistic, a child in public prekindergarten is 3 times more likely to be expelled from school or child care than a K-12 student; the rates for children in community-based child care programs is even much higher.

When looking for the causes of such behaviors in young children, we find ourselves playing the blame game: it’s the fault of parents who are uninvolved; it’s the fault of early childhood educators who are not teaching children properly, it’s the violence of children’s media, etc. And worst of all, when our efforts to try to stop these challenging behaviors through “behavior management,” punishment, or even bribes fail, we resort to blaming those “bad” children: “What is wrong with this child?”. Unfortunately, the blame game has not yet resulted in any good solutions to the problem.

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The 15th annual Best Beginnings conference, scheduled for the week of May 20 on St. Thomas and St. Croix, serves as an outlet to eliminate the blame game and discuss probable causes and solutions to behavioral problems in children – specifically those who have experienced trauma.

Interestingly, the most promising solutions lie in a major public health study and modern brain research. Beginning in 1995, scientists from the Center for Disease Control and doctors from the Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego conducted a study that examined adults exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACE), including such things as exposure to child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, family disruption, and mental illness or alcoholism in parents. The study found that the more “ACEs” one had experienced, the greater the risk of having and dying from preventable health problems such as heart disease, lung disease and alcoholism. Astonishingly, 64% of adults in the sample –most of who were employed and had good health care, had at least one ACE; over 1 in 5 had 3 or more. The results have since been duplicated in ACE studies conducted all over the U.S.

The reason for the relationship between ACEs and poor health goes far beyond the simple fact those who experience ACEs tend to engage in behaviors that risk their health as they become adolescents or adults. What brain research is revealing is that trauma and toxic stress in early childhood negatively affects the architecture of the developing brain. This rewiring of the brain from its normal developmental path profoundly influences the functioning of the body’s stress response system, at some point making a child become hardwired to prepare for threats, and even anticipating them where no threat exists at all. In addition to leading to an increased risk for poor physical and mental health outcomes in adulthood, this rewiring is directly responsible for those difficult behaviors we observe in young children. And almost daily, new brain research also demonstrates how such factors affect the ability of children to learn.

The understanding of the prevalence of trauma and its impact on development is revolutionizing the way all kinds of services are provided to children and families. “Trauma-informed care” is becoming a standard across a number of sectors from health care, child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice, and education. This approach starts with the question: “What happened to this child?” And leads to responses which acknowledge 1) the intergenerational nature of trauma (explaining why simply blaming parents for their child’s behavior does not help at all); 2) that traumatized children, because of how their brains have become rewired, will be easily retriggered by stimuli we think of as normal or even comforting which can lead to behaviors that don’t “make sense”.(e.g. a gentle touch on the shoulder by a caring teacher that is reacted to in hostile way because it is perceived as a threat); and, 3) it is incredibly easy for any of us, including seasoned professionals to inadvertently re-traumatize children even as we try to help them.

All of us who consider ourselves stakeholders in the Virgin Islands early childhood community need to become aware of the prevalence of early childhood trauma in our community and its impact on human development. The 15th Annual Best Beginnings Conference has invited trainers from the Institute of Family Professionals from PA that have worked with many kinds of professionals, including early childhood educators, to deliver our keynote and conduct a more intensive workshop on the brain basics that underlie the connection of trauma and toxic stress in infancy and early childhood and poor behavioral and learning outcomes in children. The implications of this research for how we can help prevent ACEs and help our children who have experienced them regain their right to be on a path towards healthy development and success in school will also be explored. If you are interested in attending the Best Beginnings conference, please call Antoinette Boissiere at 340-774-0930 to register for the conference. Preregistration is required as space is limited. Please note that attendance at the conference helps satisfy the annual professional development required of all early childhood educators by the Office of Child Care and Regulatory Services.

If you are unable to attend the conference, we encourage you to find out more about the costs of trauma and toxic stress in early childhood. As Dr. Anda from the CDC put it, ACEs are a “chronic health disaster” and one that is extremely costly. The CDC has estimated that the lifetime cost of one case of child maltreatment where the child does not die is $210,012 – covering child health care costs, adult health care costs, lost wages, child welfare and juvenile justice costs, and special education costs. If we cannot bring ourselves in the Virgin Islands to confront this problem on moral grounds, this dollar figure should speak for itself. We simply can no longer afford NOT to deal with this crisis in our own backyard. And if you don’t think it’s a problem, please remember the 40 plus preschoolers who had to lay on the floor of their Bergs Home Head Start classrooms as bullets flew by the windows in April. We can go ahead and add one 1 point to whatever their ACE score is already.

Elizabeth Jaeger, Ph.D. is the Director of Quality Services at the Department of Human Services Office of Child Care and Regulatory Services. She is charged with oversight of the new Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) for child care in the Territory.

A native of Philadelphia, Penn., with a doctorate in developmental psychology, Jaeger was most recently an associate professor of special education at Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia. She has conducted research in childcare since 1984 specifically the attribution of child development to the improvement of quality early care and the education children receive.

From 2002-2007 she evaluated a $17million school readiness initiative implemented by the United Way, with a large component focused on improving the quality of early care and education in the region. Consequently, Jaeger’s research was instrumental in designing the QRIS in Pennsylvania and helped advocate for funding to support the first wave of QRIS in the United States.

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Anyone who has raised, cared for, taught or otherwise worked with young children knows that their behaviors can at times be puzzling, frustrating, and even exasperating,

What else would we expect from them when their ability to think of what they want to do far exceeds what they are actually capable of doing, and they have yet to master basic self-regulation and social skills.

Even as adults, we all have these moments. Apart from the normal challenges that come with growing up, however, there is an increasing concern about the numbers of young children with “challenging” or problem behaviors. Indeed, in a staggering statistic, a child in public prekindergarten is 3 times more likely to be expelled from school or child care than a K-12 student; the rates for children in community-based child care programs is even much higher.

When looking for the causes of such behaviors in young children, we find ourselves playing the blame game: it’s the fault of parents who are uninvolved; it’s the fault of early childhood educators who are not teaching children properly, it’s the violence of children’s media, etc. And worst of all, when our efforts to try to stop these challenging behaviors through “behavior management,” punishment, or even bribes fail, we resort to blaming those “bad” children: “What is wrong with this child?”. Unfortunately, the blame game has not yet resulted in any good solutions to the problem.

The 15th annual Best Beginnings conference, scheduled for the week of May 20 on St. Thomas and St. Croix, serves as an outlet to eliminate the blame game and discuss probable causes and solutions to behavioral problems in children – specifically those who have experienced trauma.

Interestingly, the most promising solutions lie in a major public health study and modern brain research. Beginning in 1995, scientists from the Center for Disease Control and doctors from the Kaiser Permanente's Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego conducted a study that examined adults exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACE), including such things as exposure to child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, family disruption, and mental illness or alcoholism in parents. The study found that the more “ACEs” one had experienced, the greater the risk of having and dying from preventable health problems such as heart disease, lung disease and alcoholism. Astonishingly, 64% of adults in the sample –most of who were employed and had good health care, had at least one ACE; over 1 in 5 had 3 or more. The results have since been duplicated in ACE studies conducted all over the U.S.

The reason for the relationship between ACEs and poor health goes far beyond the simple fact those who experience ACEs tend to engage in behaviors that risk their health as they become adolescents or adults. What brain research is revealing is that trauma and toxic stress in early childhood negatively affects the architecture of the developing brain. This rewiring of the brain from its normal developmental path profoundly influences the functioning of the body’s stress response system, at some point making a child become hardwired to prepare for threats, and even anticipating them where no threat exists at all. In addition to leading to an increased risk for poor physical and mental health outcomes in adulthood, this rewiring is directly responsible for those difficult behaviors we observe in young children. And almost daily, new brain research also demonstrates how such factors affect the ability of children to learn.

The understanding of the prevalence of trauma and its impact on development is revolutionizing the way all kinds of services are provided to children and families. “Trauma-informed care” is becoming a standard across a number of sectors from health care, child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice, and education. This approach starts with the question: “What happened to this child?” And leads to responses which acknowledge 1) the intergenerational nature of trauma (explaining why simply blaming parents for their child’s behavior does not help at all); 2) that traumatized children, because of how their brains have become rewired, will be easily retriggered by stimuli we think of as normal or even comforting which can lead to behaviors that don’t “make sense”.(e.g. a gentle touch on the shoulder by a caring teacher that is reacted to in hostile way because it is perceived as a threat); and, 3) it is incredibly easy for any of us, including seasoned professionals to inadvertently re-traumatize children even as we try to help them.

All of us who consider ourselves stakeholders in the Virgin Islands early childhood community need to become aware of the prevalence of early childhood trauma in our community and its impact on human development. The 15th Annual Best Beginnings Conference has invited trainers from the Institute of Family Professionals from PA that have worked with many kinds of professionals, including early childhood educators, to deliver our keynote and conduct a more intensive workshop on the brain basics that underlie the connection of trauma and toxic stress in infancy and early childhood and poor behavioral and learning outcomes in children. The implications of this research for how we can help prevent ACEs and help our children who have experienced them regain their right to be on a path towards healthy development and success in school will also be explored. If you are interested in attending the Best Beginnings conference, please call Antoinette Boissiere at 340-774-0930 to register for the conference. Preregistration is required as space is limited. Please note that attendance at the conference helps satisfy the annual professional development required of all early childhood educators by the Office of Child Care and Regulatory Services.

If you are unable to attend the conference, we encourage you to find out more about the costs of trauma and toxic stress in early childhood. As Dr. Anda from the CDC put it, ACEs are a “chronic health disaster” and one that is extremely costly. The CDC has estimated that the lifetime cost of one case of child maltreatment where the child does not die is $210,012 – covering child health care costs, adult health care costs, lost wages, child welfare and juvenile justice costs, and special education costs. If we cannot bring ourselves in the Virgin Islands to confront this problem on moral grounds, this dollar figure should speak for itself. We simply can no longer afford NOT to deal with this crisis in our own backyard. And if you don’t think it’s a problem, please remember the 40 plus preschoolers who had to lay on the floor of their Bergs Home Head Start classrooms as bullets flew by the windows in April. We can go ahead and add one 1 point to whatever their ACE score is already.

Elizabeth Jaeger, Ph.D. is the Director of Quality Services at the Department of Human Services Office of Child Care and Regulatory Services. She is charged with oversight of the new Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) for child care in the Territory.

A native of Philadelphia, Penn., with a doctorate in developmental psychology, Jaeger was most recently an associate professor of special education at Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia. She has conducted research in childcare since 1984 specifically the attribution of child development to the improvement of quality early care and the education children receive.

From 2002-2007 she evaluated a $17million school readiness initiative implemented by the United Way, with a large component focused on improving the quality of early care and education in the region. Consequently, Jaeger’s research was instrumental in designing the QRIS in Pennsylvania and helped advocate for funding to support the first wave of QRIS in the United States.