MARVIN’S STORY TOUCHED ON AN ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCE (ACE) WHEN AT 14 YEARS OLD, HIS BEST FRIEND DIED. AN ACE IS AN EXPERIENCE THAT CAUSES TOXIC STRESS BEFORE A YOUNG PERSON REACHES THE AGE OF 18.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently published a study that explored nine aspects of personal and familial trauma that include sexual abuse, emotional neglect, verbal abuse, neighborhood violence, parental substance abuse, and racism. Many children in Baltimore City live with multiple aspects of these experiences every day. It is not normal and it never should be.
Although ACEs are common across all income groups, children and youth raised in homes at or below the poverty line were more likely to have ACEs, the study found. In Baltimore City, 31.3 percent or 39,682 children live in poverty.
The impact and aftermath of ACEs are extensive and immense, as there is a strong correlation between ACEs and behavioral problems. For example, children who experience toxic stress have trouble calming themselves down, are easily distracted and have a hard time making and keeping friends. ACEs in any category are linked to the increased likelihood of suicide attempts throughout a lifespan, sleep disturbances in adulthood, lifetime depressive episodes, high-risk sexual behaviors, early initiation of alcohol use, prescription drug use, and continued tobacco use throughout adulthood.
Despite the impact, there is hope. Various familial and community approaches reverse the effects of ACEs. The tactics include families developing positive communication skills, habits, and routines, and communities advocating for policies that create environments where children and youth can overcome, flourish and thrive.
The Foundation recommends the following policies:
- Policies like paid family leave and home visiting to ensure that parents and caregivers have the time, knowledge, and resources they need to support their children.
- Policies that can improve access to and the quality of childcare and early education.
- Policies that can help create healthier communities such as those focused on safe affordable housing, access to healthy foods and community violence prevention.
Traumatic Experiences Widespread Among U.S. Youth, New Data Show.” RWJF, 9 Nov. 2017, www.rwjf.org/en/library/articles-and-news/2017/10/traumatic-experiences-widespread-among-u-s--youth--new-data-show.html.
“Adverse Childhood Experiences.” Adverse Childhood Experiences | SAMHSA, www.samhsa.gov/capt/practicing-effective-prevention/prevention-behavioral-health/adverse-childhood-experiences.
Sacks, Vanessa, et al. “Adverse Childhood Experiences: National and State Level Prevelance.” ChildTrends, July 2014, www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Brief-adverse-childhood-experiences_FINAL.pdf.