Featured Editorial

What Experts Want You to Know About Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences

This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.

Gazing down upon a sweet newborn baby opening their eyes for the very first time to observe the world around them is one of life’s most precious memories. The future ahead holds unlimited promise and potential for the darling bundle of joy. As I delivered each one of my three children, my heart was immediately flooded with an overwhelming swell of love for the new lives soon to unfold before my eyes. 

If only we all were able to enjoy our lives to our fullest potential. Unfortunately, the ideal and the reality are alarmingly different outcomes in life. A concerning number of kids experience traumatic stress events during childhood. There are a mix of circumstances that can pose as barriers to our success in life identified by experts as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs.


What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are defined by CDC as “potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. ACEs can include violence, abuse, and growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems.” Stressful life experiences occurring during early childhood have the potential of not only negatively impacting a child’s life, but current research indicates trauma, toxic stress, and anxiety negatively affect brain development.

ACEs are categorized as potentially traumatic challenges occurring between birth and 17 years of age. Some children may be exposed to the toxic stress of ACEs stemming from household challenges, environmental factors, and the impacts of poverty attributed to limited educational and economic opportunities. Contributing factors may include experiencing:

- Domestic Violence
- Emotional/Sexual Abuse
- Substance Abuse
- Physical/Emotional Neglect
- Poverty Circumstances
- Community Violence
- Family Suicide Death or Attempt
- Mental Health Concerns
- Parental Divorce or Separation
- Discrimination/Prejudices
- Substandard Housing Conditions
- Homelessness Crises
- Family Incarceration

ACEs have the potential of progressing throughout childhood to negatively impact adulthood by increasing the risk for health conditions, mental illness, substance misuse, education, and impacting employment opportunities. Statistics gathered by CDC indicate that “at least 5 of the top 10 leading causes of death are associated with ACEs.” Cuddling my children throughout their first swaddled days, all I ever wanted for them, like countless other parents, was to see them succeed. But here’s an astonishing fact from CDC: “About 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported that they had experienced at least one type of ACE, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.”

These statistics are sobering, but the good news is, ACEs can be prevented. If we work together, we can direct resources toward addressing family needs.

When we all play a role, ACEs move from a focus of individual responsibility to community-based solutions and services.


How Can We Help Prevent ACEs?

Raising awareness about ACEs and their harmful effects is an urgent task because many are unaware that exposure to ACEs is associated with increased risk for challenges as adults. This includes working together to change the narrative focused on causes and responsibility for the prevention of ACEs from resting solely on individuals to concerted community solutions.


Let’s take a moment to emphasize that it is okay to not be okay. Professionals are available to provide resources and support services to help manage difficult times. Reach out to share your needs or concerns with your child’s pediatrician, your general practitioner, family, friends, school staff, or religious leaders to aid in connections to local programs skilled in working with families in need of support. Find and connect with three reliable sources of help to bridge the gap between both you and your family and valuable assistance.

Have you taken the time to find your support system? Here’s where we each have the power to stand as advocates. Let’s share this message to help prevent ACEs. We all should be able to identify three people or resources for support during times of need, I have called upon my bestie, my physician, and a few close moms that I confide in have been have been a strong source of support. If you have already pinpointed your three key sources of support, well done! Consider reaching out to become one of the three trusted connections for a person in need, seeking to establish a supportive network. I can personally attest to the benefits of reaching out and having others reach out to enable us all to thrive in society.

Preventing ACEs

Strategy
Approach

Strengthen economic supports to families
  • Strengthening household financial security
  • Family-friendly work policies

Promote social norms that protect against violence and adversity
  • Public education campaigns
  • Legislative approaches to reduce corporal punishment
  • Bystander approaches
  • Men and boys as allies in prevention

Ensure a strong start for children
  • Early childhood home visitation
  • High-quality child care
  • Preschool enrichment with family engagement

Teach skills
  • Social-emotional learning
  • Safe dating and healthy relationship skill programs
  • Parenting skills and family relationship approaches

Connect youth to caring adults and activities
  • Mentoring programs
  • After-school programs

Intervene to lessen immediate and long-term harms
  • Enhanced primary care
  • Victim-centered services
  • Treatment to lessen the harms of ACEs
  • Treatment to prevent problem behavior and future involvement in violence
  • Family-centered treatment for substance use disorders

Raising awareness of ACEs can help:
  • Change how people think about the causes of ACEs and who could help prevent them.
  • Shift the focus from individual responsibility to community solutions.
  • Reduce stigma around seeking help with parenting challenges or for substance misuse, depression, or suicidal thoughts.
  • Promote safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments where children live, learn, and play.
Let’s help all children reach their full potential and create neighborhoods, communities, and a world in which every child can thrive.

Learn more about preventing ACEs.




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