One thing to know about Adverse Childhood Experiences is that they are common. And another is that trauma doesn’t go away. In fact, trauma — abuse, violence, poverty, neglect, divorce — changes developing bodies and brains in ways that can affect generations. But the most important thing to know about childhood trauma is that we can change those outcomes.
This is a critical conversation for our community. A 2016 study showed 1 in 4 children had experienced frequent economic hardship, and a similar proportion had experienced parental divorce or separation. Trenton residents are more likely to live in poverty than others in Mercer County and children living in poverty are more likely to have experienced three or more traumas. During a recent gathering of more than 100 Trenton residents, 44% reported 4 or more ACEs.
Many “behavior” or “criminal” issues facing our community are rooted in toxic stress resulting from adverse childhood experiences. Toxic stress can trigger hormones that change children’s brains and bodies, stifling their impulse control so they act out in school or make dangerous choices. Toxic stress puts them at a greater risk for heart disease, cancer, homelessness, prison time, and substance use throughout life.
What are ACEs?
Events that qualify as ACEs include physical, sexual, or verbal abuse, neglect, and exposure to other traumatic stressors, such as divorce or having a parent in prison. The aggregation of these experiences impacts individuals’ life-long health and wellbeing and may be tallied through taking a simple ACE quiz. What are ACEs? Find your score here
THT recently partnered with the City of Trenton and Urban Mental Health Alliance to share the acclaimed documentary film Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope and host a discussion with Dr. David Johnson, whose work is highlighted in the film. See Dr. Johnson’s presentations on ACEs in Schools and Resilience and Social Buffering
Given the history marginalized communities have endured, self-preservation traditionally has discouraged expressing weakness or vulnerability or discussing depression, anxiety or fear. But talking, and working together to bolster supports for children and families is the only way to heal and prevent trauma and its long-term effects.
View a TED Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on the long-term effects of toxic stress.
The New Jersey Funders ACEs Collaborative–The Nicholson Foundation, The Burke Foundation, and the Turrell Fund–released a report titled Adverse Childhood Experiences: Opportunities to Prevent, Protect Against, and Heal from the Effects of ACEs in New Jersey. The report details the challenges New Jersey faces in addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and outlines opportunities and actions for a coordinated statewide response to mitigate their lasting effects.