Adverse Childhood Experiences and How to Overcome Them

Evidence shows that stress and trauma, especially when prolonged, can interrupt healthy child development, putting them at risk for lifelong health issues.

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years).

9 IDENTIFIED ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES

  1. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
  2. SUBSTANCE ABUSE
  3. PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, AND SEXUAL ABUSE
  4. MATERNAL DEPRESSION
  5. PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL NEGLECT
  6. DIVORCE
  7. MENTAL ILLNESS
  8. INCARCERATION
  9. HOMELESSNES

The first ACE’s study was from 1995 to 1997 and asked more than 17,000 adults about childhood experiences. Nearly two-thirds of participants noted at least one ACE and more than 1 in 5 noted three or more.

The latest National Survey of Children’s Health data shows in 2017-18, approximately 30% of children experienced one ACE, and about 14 percent experienced two or more.

Researchers identified a link between ACE exposure and a higher likelihood of negative health and behavioral outcomes later in life, such as heart disease, diabetes, and premature death. The greater the number of ACEs, the greater the risk for negative outcomes.

ACEs are also linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use problems in adulthood. In addition, ACEs can negatively impact education, job opportunities, and earning potential. 

ACEs can have lasting, negative effects on health, well-being, as well as life opportunities such as education and job potential. 

These experiences can increase the risks of injury, sexually transmitted infections, maternal and child health problems (including teen pregnancy, pregnancy complications, and fetal death), involvement in sex trafficking, and a wide range of chronic diseases and leading causes of death such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and suicide.

ACEs and associated social determinants of health, such as living in under-resourced or racially segregated neighborhoods, frequently moving, and experiencing food insecurity, can cause toxic stress (extended or prolonged stress). 

Toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect such things as attention, decision-making, learning, and response to stress.

Children growing up with toxic stress may have difficulty forming healthy and stable relationships. They may also have unstable work histories as adults and struggle with finances, jobs, and depression throughout life. 

These effects can also be passed on to their own children. Some children may face further exposure to toxic stress from historical and ongoing traumas due to systemic racism or the impacts of poverty resulting from limited educational and economic opportunities.

ACEs can follow an intergenerational pattern Research suggests that children who experience physical abuse may be more likely to commit violence, including abusing or neglecting their own children, and to be revictimized in the future.

However, ACEs can be prevented.

ACEs are preventable. There are a number of factors that may increase or decrease the risk of perpetrating and/or experiencing violence. 

To prevent ACEs, we must understand and address the factors that put people at risk. 

The CDC has outlined 6 strategies to prevent ACE’S:

  1. Strengthen economic supports to families
    • STRENGTHENING HOUSEHOLD FINANCIAL SECURITY
    • FAMILY-FRIENDLY WORK POLICIES
  2. Promote social norms that protect against violence and adversity
    • PUBLIC EDUCATION CAMPAIGNS
    • LEGISLATIVE APPROACHES TO REDUCE CORPORAL PUNISHMENT
    • BYSTANDER APPROACHES
    • MEN AND BOYS AS ALLIES IN PREVENTION
  3. Ensure a strong start for children
    • EARLY CHILDHOOD HOME VISITATION
    • HIGH QUALITY CHILD CARE
    • PRESCHOOL ENRICHMENT WITH FAMILY ENGAGEMENT
  4. Teach skills
    • SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING
    • SAFE DATING AND HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP SKILL PROGRAMS
    • PARENTING SKILLS AND FAMILY RELATIONSHIP APPROACHES
  5. Connect youth to caring adults and activities
    • MENTORING PROGRAMS
    • AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAMS
  6. Intervene to lessen immediate and long-term harms
    • ENHANCED PRIMARY CARE
    • VICTIM-CENTERED SERVICES
    • TREATMENT TO LESSEN THE HARM OF ACE’S
    • TREATMENT TO PREVENT PROBLEM BEHAVIOR AND FUTURE INVOLVEMENT IN VIOLENCE
    • FAMILY-CENTERED TREATMENT FOR SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS

Raising awareness of ACEs can help:

  • Change how people think about the causes of ACEs and who could help prevent them.
  • Shift the focus from individual responsibility to community solutions.
  • Reduce stigma around seeking help with parenting challenges or for substance misuse, depression, or suicidal thoughts.
  • Promote safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments where children live, learn, and play.

Creating and sustaining safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children and families can prevent ACEs and help all children reach their full potential.

There are also certain factors that can help mitigate long-term negative impacts after ACEs have already occurred and strengthen the ability to overcome adversity. 

  • Close and stable relationships with competent caregivers or other caring adults
  • Parents or adults who model resilience
  • Identifying and cultivating a sense of purpose (faith, culture, identity)
  • Individual developmental competencies (problem-solving skills, self–regulation, agency)
  • Social connections
  • Socioeconomic advantages and concrete support for parents and families
  • Communities and social systems that support health and development and nurture human capital

Let’s help all children reach their full potential and create neighborhoods, communities, and a world in which every child can thrive.

If you or your child needs help in healing from trauma, contact us to discuss ways we can help. 

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