Experts in developmental and behavioral pediatrics, including researchers at the OU Health Sciences Center, have put their finger on a potentially powerful counterbalance to the negative effects of childhood adversity.
Data from recent national surveys shows children in Oklahoma face more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) than children in most states. Despite this, state agencies are cutting funding for family and parent support programs that help kids avoid or overcome these adverse experiences.
Unchecked, researchers say, exposure to these ACEs - divorce, instability at home, unsafe neighborhoods, etc. - will exact a much greater price than the original cost of those programs.
"We're going suffer from the downstream health consequences," stated David Bard, a psychologist at OUHSC's Department of Pediatrics. "It's going to be a major cost burden on society."
Bard's work in developmental pediatrics has given him a clear understanding of the value of home visitation and other family support programs in minimizing a child's exposure to adverse events.
But Bard has also taken a keen interest in the ability of parents to blunt the impact of ACEs through very simple, but very positive acts with their children. And he and other researchers have come to the conclusion that positive parenting -- practices like reading books together, telling stories, facilitating play dates, going out together, family meals and watching less TV -- is critically important.
"Positive parenting practices that we have studied, in the laboratory and in field settings," explained Bard, in an interview this week, "seem to be key for development of these children and, perhaps, could be an antidote to adversities."
Bard says they're seeing the beneficial impact of positive parenting on children as early as age two. At the same time, he says they're also seeing the negative impact of ACEs by the same young age.
What's more, Bard says, their research shows that the absence of positive parenting is the equivalent to multiple ACEs.
"So, not practicing these positive parenting behaviors could be just as detrimental," said Bard, "as some of these popular adversities that have been described in the media."
A spokesperson with the Oklahoma Department of Health said today in an email that it is not yet known if they will be able to restore funding for the home visitation program the agency cut last summer, since they don't yet know what their appropriation for FY 2019 will be.