how do “Adverse Childhood Experiences” impact family well-being?
ACEs are potentially traumatic experiences faced by children and youth before they reach the age of 18. Research conducted by doctors Vincent Feletti and Robert Anda (1998) links ACEs to life-long health and well-being outcomes. This link points to the single-most important community health factor known today to address significant social and health concerns.
Simply stated, the more ACEs a child’s brain has experienced (such as abuse; neglect; violence; separation from one or more parents or caring, safe adults due to divorce, death or incarceration; exposure to adults living with untreated substance abuse or addictions or mental health conditions) the more likely, as an adult, that individual will have lowered well-being.
As well, it is likely that the individual may pass along exposure of ACEs to their own children as they struggle with physical, mental and emotional responses to stress and triggering situations.
Know that ACEs research is not individually predictive. Just because you have been exposed to 3 or more ACEs in your childhood—that doesn’t mean you have been sentenced to poor health and well-being. However, it is important to consider the link between your ACE score, your coping skills, access to community supports, and your health.
amazing brains, resilience & hope!
Yes, ACEs can change developing brains, according to new brain science, but brains can and do heal and learn across the lifespan! As we learn and repeat healthy behaviors, we rewire the way the brain responds.
The growing field of epigenetics indicates that an outer coating of our genetic code (DNA) changes from generation to generation and while we can pass along harmful traits, changing behaviors and lifestyles for the better can increase the number of healthy and helpful traits, passed along, too! Based on what we know now, the healthier you are at the time of your child’s conception, the better for your children and even your grandchildren!
“Resilience” means many things. Important concepts include having strong connections to safe, caring people within compassionate communities—families, schools, and neighborhoods. You and your children are strengthened through belonging and connection.
Emerging science on hope (Hellman, Pittman, & Munoz, 2013) tells us that hope is important to all humans, children and adults. Hope is associated with the ability of people and groups to set goals, find pathways to reach those goals, and have access to the skills and opportunities to actually make progress and attain them. Education, health and behavioral health care, workforce training, positive social interactions, and the healthy interconnectedness of the communities and systems around you all have an impact on how hopeful one feels.
Healthy, connected communities have the capacity to provide the skills and opportunities families need to have hope, heal the impact of trauma and raise children who will live long, healthy lives and thrive.
what can i do
- Know your ACE & Resilience scores
- Attend local trainings on ACEs and Resilience Building
- Read about ACEs, Brain Science, Resilience and Hope
- Take a Strengthening Families, Triple P, or other parenting course that helps families connect, communicate and manage conflict with confidence and compassion.
- Share this information with others!
- Consider how ACEs may link to your life choices. How they impact interactions with children you love.
- Talk to your healthcare and behavioral healthcare providers about how ACEs have impacted your health and well being.
- Be compassionate to yourself and others—ACEs likely impact us all. Respond kindly to behaviors that trigger your stress. They may be associated with trauma in both you and the other individual.
- Be a safe, caring adult to a child. Do your best to reduce exposure to ACEs for children in your life.
- Have fun as a family! Make time to play, laugh, talk and eat meals together.
community capacity grows resilience & hope
A community’s resilience is important— rarely can an individual achieve their highest level of resilience and hope without being in a safe, healthy, caring environment.
Healthy, connected communities have the capacity to provide the skills and opportunities families need to increase hope, heal the impact of trauma and support children who will thrive.