Neglect. Abuse. Addiction. Mental Illness. Incarceration. Sadly, these kinds of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) aren’t uncommon. And in families where these ACES add up, childhood traumas can tend to repeat themselves as children turn into adults.
This week, Brianne from the IHAD staff joined several hundred stakeholders gathered for the Adverse Childhood Experiences Summit, which presented research that links childhood trauma to problems later in life and drummed up excitement for the completion of Iowa’s Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study.
Dr. Robert Anda did a great job of explaining the physiology of stress, and how it modifies cellular function in developing children’s brains. (In addition to biology, he also wove in some pretty interesting art history!)
Anda’s research team’s finding showed that children who encountered three or more ACEs had significant problems in schools — among other difficulties. As we work with our Dreamer families, the ACEs cross-generational cycle is important to understand.
Having information about ACEs in Iowa helps us move toward providing trauma-informed care in our communities. ACEs data can provide a framework for addressing a number of public health, social and medical service issues.
Laura Porter of the Washington State Family Policy Council, walked us through the stages of community empowerment that groups in her state are using to respond to their areas with high ACE scores. (Lincoln High School in Walla Walla was a fantastic example.) Because these adverse experiences are prevalent, Porter says, we can’t necessarily afford enough direct services to serve all of the people who would need them. Instead, she said, we need to invest in communities and expand the leadership base to include more concerned citizens.
“Surprise people with leadership opportunities and you’ll be rewarded,” Porter told us. “Instead of slipping back, you’ll slip forward into the next phase.”
The Iowa ACEs Summit did a good job of showing how, by collecting data about adverse childhood experiences, we can make our systems of prevention and intervention more effective. Then, we’ll be able to change the endings of these childhood stories, ensuring today’s neglected, abused or addicted children can become the ‘unlikely’ community leaders of tomorrow.
This slide illustrates some of their process: