What are ACES?
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) are various forms of abuse and neglect. This can happen during childhood (ages 0-17). The trauma of ACEs can cause children to develop toxic stress, affecting them not just emotionally but also psychologically and biologically. Toxic stress is associated with everything from misbehavior at school (academics) to heart disease; it can shorten the lives of the kids who suffer from it experiencing:
- violence, abuse, or neglect
- witnessing violence in the home or community
- having a family member attempt or die by suicide
Also included are aspects of the child’s environment that can undermine their sense of safety, stability, and bonding, such as growing up in a household with:
- substance use problems
- mental health problems
- instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison
Why is GYAC exploring ACES?
ACEs can have lasting, negative effects on health, well-being, as well as life opportunities such as education and job potential. These experiences can increase the risks of injury, maternal and child health problems and a wide range of chronic diseases and leading causes of death such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and suicide.
ACEs and associated social determinants of health, can cause toxic stress (extended or prolonged stress). Toxic stress from ACEs can negatively affect children’s brain development, immune systems, and stress-response systems. These changes can affect children’s attention, decision-making, and learning. Our students are currently dealing with societal pressures and influences as well, making it challenging to navigate daily. As a community resource serving as an afterschool program, we can expose our students to a safe and trusted environment because ACES can be mitigated by promoting hope through safe, stable, nurturing relationships between children and their parents or caregivers act to buffer the effects of toxic stress and other ACEs. If parents are struggling, other adults – like teachers or coaches – can be present to provide the safe, stable, nurturing relationships that a child needs. PTAs can also invest in supporting and promoting policies and providing programs that strengthen families.
How can we prevent ACEs?
ACEs are preventable. To prevent ACEs, we must understand and address the factors that put our students at risk for societal hazards that children fall prey to as they attempt to navigate through their life. GYAC is educating teachers, parents, and other community partners the importance of the ACES and how to mitigate them through resilience which the ability to thrive, adapt and cope despite tough and stressful times.
Now that we know resilience is a skill that can be taught, learned, and practiced, we all can become resilient with the right training and people around us. Resilience isn’t just for children; adults can also learn these skills. Creating and sustaining safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children and families can prevent ACEs and help all children reach their full potential.