By Ashley Underwood, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.
How does one describe a traumatic event? Traumatic is defined as “emotionally disturbing or distressing,” which can vary from person to person, so that question has many answers.
“Adverse Childhood Experience” is a term that refers to various forms of trauma individuals may experience in childhood. This includes experiencing violence, abuse or neglect, witnessing violence in the home or community, having a family member attempt or die by suicide, growing up in a household with substance use problems or mental health problems, or instability due to parental separation or incarcerated family members.
According to the CDC, about 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported they had experienced at least one type of ACE before age 18, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.
There is a direct link between ACEs and physical health. Unfortunately, for each adverse child experience, there is an increased risk of chronic health issues. Center for Youth Wellness shares that those individuals experiencing 4 or more ACEs are associated with significantly increased risk for 7 out of 10 leading adult causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, COPD, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and suicide.
There is also significant detriment that can occur to a child’s brain when experiencing that amount of stress. Experiencing ACEs can impact attention span, memory, stress response, immune system, emotion regulation, decision making skills, and overall learning. We see many of these issues in the school setting on a daily basis, and sadly, it is related to the amount of trauma our children have experienced.
What can we do to help? Prevention is key. The CDC recommends the following six strategies for helping to prevent ACEs:
- Strengthen economic support for families. This includes churches, community organizations, and non-profits helping with financial distress as well as employers providing adequate pay, time off, and benefits for employees.
- Promote social norms that protect against violence and adversity. Work to create safe spaces for children and adults to talk about mental health challenges and reinforce the motto, “See something, say something” for children in regards to acts of violence, bullying, abuse, etc.
- Ensure a strong start for children. This can include funding early education programs for families with affordable options, as well as increasing in-home learning options for parents.
- Teach skills. Allow programs in schools that promote and teach emotional regulation, conflict resolution, social skills, and boundaries.
- Connect youth to caring adults and activities. “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” -Josh Shipp
Get kids involved in mentoring programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, encourage teachers to put them in leadership roles at school, have them join after school activities like choir, intramurals, or scouting.
- Intervene to lessen immediate and long-term harms. Educate the public on ACEs, the risk factors, and the support available including treatment options, resource assistance, and organizations that promote these things.
Let’s do our part! For more information about the ACEs, check out https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html