Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and Trauma
Imagine growing up with limited food in your home, a father who is in prison, and a mother struggling with a mental health diagnosis, who doesn’t always take her medication. This is Angela’s childhood reality. As Angela experiences this severe home environment, other areas of her life are affected as well. Angela is easily distracted and has little energy left to focus on her school responsibilities. Her life at home has a drastic effect on her overall wellbeing. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Angela is experiencing three separate traumatic or adverse childhood experiences – limited food, an absent father, and a mother struggling with mental illness. Although these have direct impact on her life today, she will continue to feel the long term affects experienced by this trauma.
Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACES, are defined as traumatic events that occur in childhood from birth to 17 years of age. Experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect, witnessing violence in the home, or having a family member attempt or die by suicide are some examples of traumatic events. Other adverse experiences may include growing up in a household with substance misuse, mental health problems, or instability due to parent separation or incarceration. These aspects of a child’s environment may challenge their safety, stability and bonding in relationships.
For children who’ve experienced ACES, there is evidence linking ACES to later life experiences of risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death. Of course the presence of ACEs does not mean a child is guaranteed to experience poor outcomes. But we do know early adversity has lasting impacts. As the number of ACES a child experiences increase, so does the risk for these negative outcomes. Other negative outcomes include traumatic brain injury fractures, depression/anxiety/suicide/PTSD, unintended pregnancy and/or complications, HIV/STDs, cancer/diabetes, alcohol and drug abuse, unsafe sex, and low education, occupation, and income.
It is important to notice areas where your child may be at risk of experiencing trauma and take steps toward preventing these adverse childhood experiences. The following are just some of the ways you can work to help to prevent ACEs from impacting your family: maintain strong work habits for your family, increase education and trade opportunities, maintain early childhood programs and high quality child care that supports healthy family habits, discuss healthy relationships with families and friends, encourage healthy parenting skills, take advantage of mentoring and after school programs, increase regular health care visits with one physician, and make use of emergency services and treatment for victims.
All information for this article is from the CDC