· Abuse (physical, emotional, sexual)· Neglect (physical and emotional)· Household Dysfunction (mental illness, incarcerated relative, violence in the home, substance abuse, divorce)
Why it’s important.
In the mid nineties, Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda developed a study which established a direct association between childhood trauma and adult ill health. As the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) increases, so does the risk for negative behaviors including lack of physical activity, drug and alcohol use, early and/or risky sexual activity and missed work. These behaviors lead to serious health outcomes such as obesity, depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse, sexually transmitted disease, heart and lung disease, and premature death. The more traumatic and toxic events experienced by a child, the more likely the impact will be substantial and long lasting. These results have been replicated over and over, finding even more significant results in inner cities where bullying, living in a dangerous neighborhood, witnessing violence, living in foster care, and experiencing racism have all been added to the list of childhood adversities.
But there’s hope.
Science shows the effects of ACEs are not permanent. Childhood experiences can impact who we become as adults, but they do not have to.
Batman has Alfred, Luke has Obi-Wan, and Katniss has Gale, Peeta, and Effie.
The presence of a caring individual is the single most significant factor in developing strong children.
We can prevent and intervene, and create supportive systems. Research shows that children need stable, responsive, nurturing relationships as early in life as possible to have the best developmental outcomes.
Investing in quality programs aimed at the early years has impressive economic benefits. Early interventions mean better grades, less crime, less risky behaviors and lower teen pregnancy rates. Ultimately these early interventions lead to better jobs and work performance, greater mental and physical health, more stable relationships and less negative impact on future generations.
What else helps?
Recognize triggers. Respond with compassion.
First and foremost, we should try to avoid triggers that re-traumatize a child such as loud sudden movement, yelling and aggressive posture. We must work to change the conversation when a child is acting out from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”
Our immediate response must be, "You are Safe. I am here. How Can I Help?" Only then can we begin to earn a child’s trust and start to build the safe, nurturing relationships necessary to teach and encourage positive resilience skills.
-Written by Lynn Detwiler, Executive Director of Barnstone Art for Kids in Phoenixville, PA and member of the Phoenixville ACEs Committee and Chester County ACEs Coalition.