Research has increasingly shown that frequent or continual stress on young children is strongly associated with lifelong health and social problems, particularly when there is not adequate protection and support from caregivers. The level of stress a child experiences becomes harmful, or “toxic stress”, when it is ongoing and when caregivers themselves struggle to help a child feel safe and emotionally connected.


{Toxic stress response } can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—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. –  Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University


A recent by NY Times article David Bornstein highlights how supports that focus on the parent/child relationship can have a protective influence on a child’s toxic stress response. Assessments conducted during Triple P (Positive Parenting, Triple P ) classes, funded by First 5 San Francisco as part of the San Francisco Family Resource Center Initiative (SF FRCI), show strong effects on many of the elements that contribute to a healthy parent/child relationship in the early years, including parents’ ability to provide a safe stimulating environment, parents’ perception of how difficult their child’s behavior is to manage, and parents’ own level of stress and anxiety.


 {Positive relationships with caring adults early in life can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress response.}


Since 2009, over 3,800 parents and caregivers have participated in a SF FRCI parenting class series; 521 parents have participated in a Triple P class which includes an in-depth assessment of outcomes. Following participation in Triple P, participants show significant positive changes in their reported use of effective parenting practices, their children’s functioning, and parental stress.


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