On October 21 the National Crittenton Foundation sponsored a briefing, Beyond ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences). The focus of the briefing was on the use of the ACEs or Adverse Childhood Experience evaluation tool. Ongoing research and findings document that when individuals are evaluated in terms of how many adverse experiences they have had as a child there can be resulting negative consequences both in child development and much later leading to negative outcomes for adults.
Negative experiences include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse, having an incarcerated care provider, and mental illness within the home. Research demonstrates that the more of these experiences within childhood the more likely there are going to be negative results into adulthood including mental, behavioral and negative health outcomes with outcomes impacting on how a parent may act and interact with their own children.
Crittenton agencies across the country have used the ACEs study and evaluation to better provide services and treatment to residents in their facilities. The assessment has been beneficial in crafting treatment plans and helping young people and adults address some of the challenges that later experience in life. This briefing featured a new expanded model of ACEs developed in part with the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital to build on the tool by expanding the adverse experiences to include witnessing violence, living in unsafe neighborhoods, experiencing racism, living in foster care, and experiencing bullying. Not surprisingly the expanded ACEs scale indicated that there were more people young people and children in the agency survey who experienced several of the negative outcomes.
According to data presented, (based surveys within 18 agencies in 16 states) nearly 45% of the children and youth surveyed experienced 1 to 3 aces while another 35% experienced four or more ACEs experiences with only 16% having no aces experiences. The survey of Crittenden participants broke down with 74% females and 26% of males, over 70% ranged from the ten years to 18 years of age. It also included a smaller portion of adults 35 to 65.
There was agreement that more work needs to be done including ongoing and expanded surveys. They did however indicate that some policy implications are emerging: we must focus on reducing overall exposure to ACEs and other forms of adversity; the gender lens should be used in all systems to better understand appropriate service responses for girls; the traditional approach of looking at scores needs to recognize the unique needs of girls with very high scores with more attention to young women with significant childhood adversity; it is important to eradicate the negative impact of bias in systems against girls of color while also making sure that low income white girls in rural areas are not further marginalized; and a two pronged or multi generational approach offers the best opportunity for parents with high scores to break the cycle of childhood adversity, trauma, poor outcomes and poverty.