Most people are concerned about the health of children. We have a high rate of immunization given to most children in the United States. We don’t want our children to have a major health issue.
Yet there is an additional issue that causes children to potentially have serious illness in their adult years: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is a major childhood problem that dramatically impact the health of impacted children as adults.
What is Adverse Childhood Experience? ACEs is a term used for physical, sexual and emotional abuse as well as emotional and physical neglect. Having a parent who is mentally ill, an alcoholic or substance abuser, in jail or a victim of domestic violence causes ACEs. Even having a parent not in the home because of divorce, death or abandonment is considered ACEs.
In addition to these issues, a person’s health can be significantly impacted by early childhood experiences. These experiences don’t just go away. Many of them comeback when the child becomes an adult. Social, emotional and behavioral problems may be the result of childhood trauma.
Diseases such as heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes depression, and mental illness may also be from childhood trauma.
ACEs are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may include viewing household dysfunction such as domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders.
Look at the list below and see if your family is vulnerable to ACEs.
Adverse Childhood Experiences can include:
• Emotional abuse
• Physical abuse
• Sexual abuse
• Emotional neglect
• Physical neglect
• Mother treated violently
• Household substance abuse
• Household mental illness
• Parental separation or divorce
• Incarcerated household member
• Bullying (by another child or adult)
• Witnessing violence outside the home
• Witness a brother or sister being abused
• Racism, sexism, or any other form of discrimination
• Being homeless
• Natural disasters and war
You can even go to the web and take a test to see what your ACEs score would be. Go to www.ACEs test. Most people have at least one type of trauma.
As your ACEs score gets higher, so does your risk of disease, and social and emotional problems.
Where did this ACEs material come from? The original ACEs study was conducted by Kaiser Permanente between 1995-1997. More than 17,000 members of Health Maintenance Organizations who were receiving physical exams completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences and current health and behavior.
This study has become one of the largest studies of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. It is ongoing today.
The need for help is clear. In 2015 there were 683,000 victims of child abuse and neglect reported to child protective services (CPS). A non-CPS study estimated that one in four children experience some form of child abuse or neglect in their lifetimes.
In 2015, about 1,670 children died from abuse or neglect. The total lifetime cost of child abuse and neglect is estimated at $124 billion each year (www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect).
The youngest children are the most vulnerable.
When you realize the impact that negative behavior can have on your child’s health, hopefully each of us will all try to be more careful for our child’s sake. You can’t do a lot about natural disasters or war but you can prevent physical abuse, violence in your home, substance abuse and many others.
Correcting this serious problem is everyone’s responsibility. Begin with checking your own behavior to make sure you are not adding to the problem.
Learn ways to improve your parenting for your sake and for your child’s sake now and in the future.
Help financially support groups who are reaching out to improve parenting in your area.
Encourage other parents to get the help they need if their behavior is causing problems for their child.
You are more powerful than you think.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.