Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences and How SouthLight Supports Healing


Guest blog by SouthLight Board member Anuradha Rao-Patel, M.D.

Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences

Trauma-informed care is critical to individual and community well-being. That’s why it is so important to have an organization like SouthLight that understands the unique needs of children and youth facing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). 

Here’s one number that underscores the importance of the work we are all engaged in: 20. That’s how many years get lost from the average life expectancy of a child who has experienced six or more adverse childhood experiences.  

More than 80% of those in our services have experienced significant trauma. Data show a clear relationship between adverse childhood experiences and physical health problems. Even when the trauma is psychological and doesn’t leave visible marks on a child’s body, the resulting stress can impede organ, tissue and brain development.  

The Impact of ACEs in Youth, Adulthood

Anxiety and depression associated with ACEs can undermine self-esteem, lead to disruptive behavior and cause children to struggle in school.  

By definition, an adverse childhood experience has an immediate impact on the young, but the repercussions can last a lifetime. Childhood trauma doesn’t seal anyone’s fate, but lingering physical and mental effects can dim future prospects for a healthy, fulfilling life.  

Tragically, as the pandemic continues, more and more children now face adverse experiences.

Illness and economic turmoil have led to job losses, food insecurity and housing insecurity. These aren’t just adult problems. Children experience them too. When a caregiver feels fear, anxiety and stress, those emotions often translate into domestic violence, neglect or abuse, and other household challenges.  

In my career at Blue Cross NC, one of my areas of specialization is substance use. The hard reality is that the United States is actually losing ground in our battle against opioid overuse. Overdose deaths were up around 30% in 2020. Nearly 80% of those deaths were attributed to opioids. Tragically, opioid overdose is now a leading cause of death for adults ages 25 to 54 in the U.S. 

Ironically, even though some studies show that substance use among youth has actually declined significantly during the pandemic, kids still feel the impact.  

Understanding the Unique Needs of Children to Build a Healthier Community

The challenges of adverse childhood experiences are intergenerational. The measures we take today could help ensure that childhood trauma doesn’t negatively impact families for decades. 

That is why it is so important to have a team like SouthLight that understands the unique needs of children and youth facing adverse childhood experiences. Trauma-informed care is critical to individual and community well-being.  

Working together to build a greater understanding of how social, emotional and medical problems intersect will facilitate our capacity to sensitively inquire about a child’s exposure to trauma and to stage productive interventions that support initial steps toward healing.  

Our work together isn’t just important because we make children’s lives better today. We are striving to give them 20 additional years of brighter, healthier tomorrows. 


Dr. Rao-Patel

Dr. Anu Rao-Patel is the Senior Medical Director for Government Markets and Appeals & Grievances at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross). In that role, she serves as the clinical interface between Blue Cross NC and its clinical partners and provides comprehensive clinical-focused leadership for enterprise-wide and external activities. She is also matrixed to the Behavioral Health team and Healthy Blue (managed Medicaid). In addition to these roles, Dr. Rao-Patel has led an internal opioid workgroup for Blue Cross and works collaboratively with other key stakeholders at both state and national levels to identify solutions and best practices on the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders while focusing on effective care coordination for member-focused care delivery. She continues to remain clinically active.