It probably won’t surprise you to learn that we all carry our childhood experiences with us throughout our lives. What might surprise you is the extent to which this is true—just how much a negative childhood experience can affect your mental, physical, and emotional health even years after the event itself.
This was the focus of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study—a retrospective study that examined the links between traumatic childhood experiences and current adult health and well-being. The ACEs Study focused on occurrences of adverse childhood experiences including exposure to emotional/physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional/physical neglect, and examined how these factors affected long-term adult mental and physical health.
The original ACEs Study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997 with two waves of data collection. Over 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members from Southern California who were receiving physical exams completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences and current health status and behaviors.
Nearly two-thirds of these participants reported a minimum of one ACE related to personal and family stressors, such as witnessing domestic violence. The higher the ACE score, the greater prevalence of co-occurring physical and mental health conditions such as depression, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide attempts, intimate partner violence, and other physical health issues. The ACEs Study found that adult participants who reported four or more ACEs were at a significantly increased risk for suicide attempts, depression, drug abuse, and alcoholism (CDC-Kaiser, 2013).
Of the 76 million children living in the United States, it is estimated that 46 million can expect to have their lives affected by violence, abuse, crime, and psychological trauma (US Department of Justice, 2012). Additionally, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence. Children who live in homes where domestic violence is occurring also suffer abuse or neglect at higher rates themselves, and often find it difficult to speak about these traumatic experiences.
Last year, Radiant Futures began incorporating the ACEs questionnaire into all of our clinical services delivered to children. This allows us to assess each child’s level of need and introduce appropriate intervention methods that work with both the child and their family to ensure they have access to the support necessary to thrive. All children receiving counseling services are given the ACEs questionnaire to help assess their level of need and to guide their recovery path. Any child who has experienced a high number of ACEs receives support from a whole-family lens, as counselors work with parents to understand and be responsive to their child’s mental and emotional health needs.
The administration of the ACEs questionnaire provides voices to children and the ability to improve adult mental health and substance abuse conditions by focusing on primary prevention of childhood physical and sexual abuse, preventing domestic violence, and promoting mental health awareness.
To view the ACEs questionnaire, follow the link provided by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges: https://www.ncjfcj.org/sites/default/files/Finding%20Your%20ACE%20Score.pdf