A HARD-HITTING report considered by councillors today (Thurs) has warned that thousands of Cumbrians are facing a health timebomb.

The stark figures presented to the county council set out how traumatic childhood experiences can have profound and far-reaching effects, leading to premature death and poor mental health in adulthood – though this did not have to be “inevitable”.

Colin Cox, Cumbria’s director of public health, revealed that an estimated 188,000 people living in Cumbria have had at least one ‘adverse childhood experience’ – with 36,000 exposed to four or more.

Adverse childhood experiences include emotional and physical neglect as well as emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

It covers those who grew up in households witnessing domestic violence, mental illness, separation and divorce, or those where a parent was in prison or on drugs.

Poverty, bereavement, family conflict, bullying and serious injury, are all considered adverse childhood experiences.

Those who have experienced four or more such experiences are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with none.

They are twice as likely to develop cancer; three times more likely to develop type two diabetes; and nine times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts or to self-harm.

They are also are twice as likely to binge drink; eight times more likely to have been involved in violence and 11 times more likely to have used heroin or crack cocaine.

As many as 46,000 children in Cumbria could have experienced at least one traumatic childhood experience before their 18th birthday

Mr Cox said that interventions beginning pre-birth and working to improve services were important to help address the crisis.

The meeting also heard that, with the right support for families, adverse childhood experiences could be prevented.

Childhood trauma is not evenly spread throughout the community, with youngsters living in deprived areas experiencing more such instances.

Councillor Anne Burns, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, described the figures as “shocking”.

She added: “We have to invest in those communities to break the cycle or we in danger of still talking about this in the next 30 years

“A child born in Mossbay (Workington) can expect to live 20 years less than a child born at the same time in the Eden Valley. We can’t allow that to keep happening. We have to give every child equal opportunity to get the best life chances – that’s not the case at the moment and we have to do something about it.

“I think it’s going to take a massive shift in central Government about how we actually get some of the funding we need or we are in danger of putting a sticking plaster over a gaping hole for the next 30 years.”

Councillors were also told that crisis was having an effect on services, with people who have experienced four or more adverse experiences in childhood twice as likely to visit their GP and A&E, and three times more likely to have spent a night in hospital.

Coun Robert Betton proposed that the council lobby central Government to get more money to invest in addressing the problem.

But Mr Cox stressed that some of what needed to be done “isn’t about money” but about working together to address the issues.

This would involve making sure families have practical support and rolling out awareness training, while the role of foster carers was described as “vitally important”.