As the science of adversity and resilience advances, and public awareness of the health consequences of stress grows, primary care providers are being increasingly asked to address the effects of adverse experiences on child wellbeing. Given limited tools for assessing these effects early in life, the authors explore how enhanced capacity to measure stress activation directly in young children could transform the role and scope of pediatric practice. When employed within a trusted relationship between caregivers and clinicians, selective use of biological measures of stress responses would help address the documented limitations of rating scales of adverse childhood experiences as a primary indicator of individual risk and strengthen the ability to focus on variation in intervention needs, assess their effectiveness, and guide ongoing management. The authors provide an overview of the potential benefits and risks of such expanded measurement capacity, as well as an introduction to candidate indicators that might be employed in an office setting. The ultimate value of such measures for both pediatricians and parents will require vigilant attention to the ethical responsibilities of assuring their correct interpretation and minimizing the harm of inappropriate labeling, especially for children and families experiencing the hardships and threats of racism, poverty, and other structural inequities. Whereas much work remains to be done to advance measurement development and ensure its equitable use, the potential of validated markers of stress activation and resilience to strengthen the impact of primary health care on the lives of young children facing significant adversity demands increased attention.
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