Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. Her column appears in Indiana newspapers.
For many of us, it is easy to see how our childhood experiences influence our adult choices, behaviors and preferences.
Perhaps you like basketball because all the kids on your street played together after school. Or you learned to cook by helping a beloved grandparent make special family meals. Years spent in a scouting program can create a lasting love of exploration. Examples of positive experiences are endless and unique to each of us.
In the same way, stressful or traumatic childhood events also have lasting impact. The importance of adverse childhood experiences, or “ACEs,” was first discovered 20 years ago as a result of a large-scale research study led by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The resulting ACEs screening tool established a way to gauge the cumulative effect of different types of childhood abuse, neglect or stressful events.
While adverse childhood experiences are very common, as the number of ACEs experienced by a child increase, so does that child’s risk for chronic disease as an adult. Unfortunately, as documented in the Indiana Youth Institute’s September data brief, Hoosier youth have a higher prevalence than their peers nationally in eight of out nine ACEs as measured by the National Survey of Children's Health.
For example, Indiana children are more likely than children nationwide to experience the following:
- Death of a parent
- Their parents’ divorce
- A parent serving time in jail
- Living with anyone who is mentally ill, suicidal or depressed
- Living with anyone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs
- Being treated unfairly due to race or ethnicity
- Witnessing domestic violence
- Being a victim or witness of neighborhood violence.
The good news is that the earlier we can identify a child’s ACEs score, the sooner we can connect them to services to prevent, reverse or heal the effects. Both physicians and educators are building systems to screen and respond to ACEs.
In many cases, positive childhood experiences can mitigate the stressful or traumatic events. All children need adults that support, trust and love them. Caring adults, whether parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches or mentors, are key to helping children build long-term resilience.