Managing Childhood Exposure to Adversity

While watching a TED talk by Doctor Nadine Burke Harris on the effects of Childhood Trauma on health across the lifetime [1], I recognized that the kinds of trauma that she was referencing included the same issues that come out in some of my family files. That is, as a Family Lawyer, I meet the parents of children who often daily experience the trauma of families fighting and falling apart into two different households.


To compound issues, many of these children are being raised in families that are not very high up on the socio economic scale and the children are frequently exposed to other social vulnerabilities. For example: their parent(s) do not have sufficient funds, or sometimes knowledge, to ensure good nutrition. Their parent(s) may also be dealing with abuse issues of their own, such as intimate partner violence, or they may be influenced by their own childhood traumas, their own or their partner’s, substance abuse issues. Finally, their parent(s) may also have mental health issues to add to the mix.

Dr. Burke Harris referenced a study called “the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study [2].” The study concluded that children who have repeated early exposure to vulnerabilities, later in life will experience a tenfold increase in certain health complications. The reason being, experience of greater adversity effects brain chemistry due to the hormones associated with that repeated stress state. In short, stress chemicals change the brain and also health potentials.

The findings were not isolated to those in society that are widely thought of as underprivileged, such as the population I referenced earlier. Rather, the population for the study was made up of 70% Caucasian individuals 70% of whom were college educated. In other words, the bulk of the sample came from a demographic that is often assumed to be less likely to suffer much in the way of social/ personal adversity.

British Colombian Courts are not unfamiliar with families going through terrible family experiences. The Courts are legislatively required to be mindful of the effects of parental behaviours on children. As such, all Family Court Orders in relation to guardianship, parenting arrangements, or contact with a child require the Court to keep the best interest of the child paramount.

In my practice, I advise litigants on various Orders impacting their children. On occasion, reports are sought so that children’s voices can be heard in the courtroom. After all, it is the children who are most affected by these Orders. Parents must keep in mind that as much as they may be having challenges with their former partner, they do not lose the task of being a parent, and the best case example of a parent is one who puts the needs of the children ahead of their own.

If you require legal assistance working through matters related to your separation or divorce, please call our office and book an appointment. I am happy to help.

#1
[1] https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_...

#2
[2] Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, Koss MP, Marks JS. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. Am J Prev Med. 1998;14:245–258