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Adverse Childhood Experiences, and what they mean for you or your child

Childhood trauma, toxic stress, trauma informed care and resilience have been getting a lot of press recently, earning a much higher level of public recognition than before. Some of this seems to be a result of emerging new terminology for older concepts, and it is also due to a growing body of research. Of course Oprah Winfrey jumping on the bandwagon during 60 Minutes in March this year didn’t hurt!

ACEs: What it is and why it’s important

Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, were studied in the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which was a groundbreaking public health study that linked childhood trauma to the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression and other mental illness, financial and social problems, and perpetrating or becoming the victim of violence.

The ACEs quiz measures for 10 traumatic childhood experiences (5 personal and 5 related to other family members). They are:

Physical abuse
Verbal abuse
Sexual abuse
Physical neglect
Emotional neglect

Related to Family:
Intimate partner violence
Mental illness
Disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment

The original study was conducted in the late 1990s, and there have been associated follow up studies and numerous articles which constitute a strong body of research.

Youth in foster care, and in kinship and adoptive families (and the adults they become) often have a higher number than average of adverse childhood experiences in their backgrounds.

What this might mean for you, and what to do about it

Awareness is essential. For people connected to youth (or adults) who have experienced childhood trauma, reframing or looking at a situation from a different perspective can be critical. For instance, when a child is acting out, rather than wondering what is wrong with him, ask or explore what might have happened to him that he is responding to. Looked at that way, a child’s behavior might be recognized as a normal reaction to a traumatic event and therefore more effectively addressed.

The majority of the US population has one ACE. Having a score of 4 or more can be a predictor of the health correlations. Keep in mind, the ACEs quiz does not tally the positive experiences in childhood that build resilience and help offset the effects of trauma.

Relationships are the key. Having at least one caring safe relationship can make a huge difference in helping build resilience – a teacher, a grandparent, a mentor, a friend. And, resilience can build throughout life. Close relationships and trauma informed therapies can be critical in building resilience. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), care that is trauma-informed recognizes and responds to the consequences of trauma specifically, and works to facilitate healing. 

Growing awareness and recognition of childhood trauma and its effects within communities of helping professionals and in greater society can only be good for the adoption and child welfare community and lead to greater understanding, evolution in practice, and more opportunities for healing. Here at Adoption Network Cleveland, this awareness is an important overlay to all we do. 

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