By Tim Grove, Chief Clinical Officer, SaintA
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study has been called one of the greatest public health discoveries of all time, a remarkable label for a study that many people have never heard of. The study asked over 17,000 middle class adults in California about adverse childhood experiences; physical & sexual abuse, divorce, emotional neglect, loss of a parent due to divorce or incarceration and parental drug abuse. The results stunned the researchers on three levels:
1. that ACEs occurred as often as they did (67% reported at least one ACE; 26% reported 3 or more)
2. when one ACE occurs, 2 or more ACEs are also present 87% of the time (ACEs rarely occur in isolation)
3. there is a strong association between ACE scores and a myriad of health, mental health and other outcomes (an ACE score of 6 or more decreases life expectancy by 20 years compared to an ACE score of 0)
The ACE research has created a groundswell in many systems and is often paired with cutting edge brain science that teaches all of us about how we can collectively maximize the strengths and talents of our children or diminish them. This potent combination offers perspective on the true effect of overwhelming, frequent, unmitigated stress and what it means for our children, the families and systems they interact with and our communities.
Many experts offer that teaching everyone about what it means to be Trauma Informed is one of the core strategies to both prevent and mitigate the effects of adversity. The core elements of a trauma informed approach include:
1. Appreciating the prevalence of adversity
2. Appreciating the impact of adversity and trauma
3. Understanding how appreciating prevalence and impact can shift perspective and thereby change how we care, educate and develop human potential
4. Prioritizing the ability for individuals to regulate their response to the world, maximizing their capacity to respond positively to stress/frustration and opportunity
5. Ensuring that individuals have the access and skills they need to create and live in relationally rich communities
6. Connecting people to their chosen sense of purpose or reason to be – connections and attributes that create meaning and significance in their lives
7. Prioritizing the role of caregivers (parents, foster parents, teachers, helping professionals) who are charged with creating context and opportunity for our communities children and recognizing that the well being of children is directly connected to the capacity of their caregivers
While the challenge is significant, so is the current momentum to rise up and address it. Much is happening right here in Milwaukee and Wisconson to help communities and systems of care become Trauma Informed and foster resiliency. As David Brooks recently wrote, perhaps ACEs can be the unifying frame that brings people together and compels them to action in the interest of stronger kids, families and communities.
- To read the full Adverse Childhood Experiences study, go to www.acestudy.org.
- You can find more infromation about the SaintA approach to Trauma Informed Care at www.sainta.org under “Truama Informed Care,” including the seven essential ingredients referenced in this article.
- A resource on the intersection between ACE research and brain science is Harvard’s Center on the Development Child: www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
- Finally, David Brooks’ 2012 piece on ACE, titled “The Psych Approach,” can be found in the New York Times opinion pages