Is it just me or is everyone talking about ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) these days? The huge study that has driven so much of our understanding about ACEs ended 20 years ago. But it seems like many people are just discovering this. That surprises me, but I’m all for folks understanding how these experiences impact students.
Just for the record, there are 10 identified ACEs (again, from that original CDC-Kaiser study done from 1955-1977). They are:
- emotional abuse
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- mother treated violently (I think we’re broadening this one, necessarily so)
- substance abuse in the household
- mental illness in the household
- separation or divorce of parents
- household member incarcerated
- emotional neglect
- physical neglect
ACEs impact people’s behavior, health, life expectancy, and economics. As a result, lots of people are discussing how best to help children and adults who have dealt with multiple ACEs. Even Sesame Street is jumping in. There’s a lot of good work happening around supporting people coping with these experiences. That’s definitely a good thing.
I’m feeling frustrated however, because I’d like to see more discussion about how to limit these experiences, rather than cope with them afterward. I will accept that we can not completely abolish these experiences. But we could do a lot more, as a society, about minimizing them.
The three forms of abuse, two forms of neglect, and violent treatment of a family member make up more than half of the ACEs identified. We need to work harder to ensure that children and adults are not being abused or neglected. We need to make certain that children are being cared for. We need to make abuse and neglect less shameful so that it is something we can discuss and address.
Substance abuse and mental health also need to be seen without the shame they carry now and need to be covered by insurance. Far too often both of these issues are non-starters with health insurance or are so minimally covered as to be pointless.
As to incarceration, I’m tired just thinking about this issue. Children of color are wildly disproportionately impacted by this ACE because of the structural racism in our judicial system. Of course, not only are children of color losing out because of this but so are women of color who are raising children alone and men of color who are spending years of their lives in prison for infractions that would earn a white man a slap on the hand. This may only be one of the 10 ACEs, but its significant as an issue in our society goes far beyond that.
The only ACE that doesn’t worry me so much is separation/divorce. I know of instances in which parents divorcing in the best possible thing for the children and other times when, mostly because of the behavior of the parents, it is awful for the children. So this one seems more complex to me.
The other nine, not so complicated. We need to help children who are coping with these traumas. No question. But we also need to work much harder to make sure fewer children are enduring them.