Last week, almost 500 people packed Bester Elementary School in Hagerstown, to hear from national experts on the longstanding effects that child abuse and trauma can leave on people.

They said early childhood maltreatment is a stressor that activates your risk for psychiatric disorders.

“About a third of them won’t have any problems, because they’re somewhat resilient and have protective factors,” said Dr. Jerry Yager, a clinical psychologist that specializes in childhood trauma. “About a third of them will become self-destructive, and about a third of them will go on to become aggressive to others.”

They added that poverty and tough economic times can also lead to higher chances of abuse.

“People don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to abuse my child today.’ It typically does not happen that way” said Keith Fanjoy, director of Bester Community of Hope in Hagerstown. “If you are in a period of desperation, or you’re in a period of stress, you might be more prone to be in a situation where you might do something that you might not do otherwise.”

The event was organized by Bester Community of Hope, whose aim is to prevent child abuse from happening in the first place. To do that, they said it’s important to invest in children through after-school programs and school-based health centers.

“What we got to do is get to those kids before any of these things happen on a large-scale,” Fanjoy added.

It’s also critical to focus on vulnerable communities in Hagerstown that are transient, they explained, because isolation is a key issue that can lead to abuse.