Traumatic early childhood experiences can shape children for life

Donna Shields, right, and Belinda Morgan listen as Dr. Pat Levitt speaks Monday, May 1, 2017 during the ACEs Community Summit at the Family Justice Center.

We learn how to be good - or bad - at a very early age, and any effort to improve public education, reduce crime or improve health care must begin almost at birth.

That's the message of a two-day program focusing on adverse childhood events, or ACEs, the traumatic experiences that can warp a baby's emotional and physical development.

"Brains build over time from the bottom up, skills beget skills," said Dr. Pat Levitt, an expert at the University of Southern California and at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, on how experience and genetics shape the brain. "For children and infants and toddlers and adolescents, this is critical," Levitt told a lunchtime forum of doctors, nurses, child welfare advocates and educators.