Why we should be concerned about ACEs
This is a story about Jordan, a seven-year-old boy who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in a neighbourhood close to town, along with his mother, grandmother and three siblings. They all have to share one tiny bathroom.
When Jordan was 5, he watched as his father was arrested by the police and taken away in handcuffs in the middle of the night. Jordan hasn't seen him since.
Jordan had often watched and listened to his mother and father fight, and now he watches and listens to his mother and granny argue, which they do often because they just don't get along.
Granny also has a drinking problem, and that doesn't help matters any.
Jordan attends primary school as regularly as he can, but he has to stay at home to care for his little sisters when they are sick because his mom cannot afford to lose any time from work and his granny is not to be relied on to help around the house or with the children.
Jordan is a bright boy and usually enjoys going to school. He likes his teachers, but he has trouble keeping up with the work because he is absent so often.
He has trouble in trying to sit still and focus on the classwork. Jordan is also easily distracted and stares off into space when he should be paying attention.
Jordan has never received any kind of counselling or any remedial education. He is doing the best that he can to cope on his own.
Jordan's story is not uncommon. What Jordan has seen and lived through in his young life are called “adverse childhood experiences” — or ACEs — which are defined by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and by Kaiser Permanente, as stressful or traumatic events in a child's life.
These experiences are not limited to those that Jordan has been exposed to.
ACEs can include a child dealing with physical, sexual and emotional abuse; growing up in a dysfunctional home with domestic violence, substance abuse or mental illness; or having a family member who is or has been incarcerated.
The incidence or likelihood of ACEs is not limited to a child's sex, age, ethnicity, or the family's economic or social status.
The more a child is exposed to these types of high trauma experiences without getting counselling or other supports that are needed, the more likely they are to fail a grade, drop out, or have other challenges in school and later on in life, including major chronic illness and social problems.
However, as Family Centre and other organisations have discovered, interventions with parents and school professionals, and education regarding awareness of and treatment for ACEs, can help families and school systems to create safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments that assist to build resilience in children and, more effectively, stop the cycle from repeating from generation to generation.
Jordan, and every child, everywhere, deserves a healthy start. A loving home, a good school, a safe neighbourhood — these things create the foundation for a long and happy life.
Sadly, and more specifically, too many children in Bermuda do not have access to this kind of healthy and stable start in life.
Awareness of ACEs and what can be done about them is a significant first step in our community's work to begin to prevent their occurrence and to begin to heal and build resilience for all children in Bermuda who have experienced them.
Our upcoming conference, “Adverse Childhood Experiences: Awareness and A Call to Action”, is an excellent introduction.
On October 11 and 12, Family Centre, with other partners, will host numerous professionals and other presenters whose messages will help to raise awareness of ACEs, and inform us about how we can strengthen our existing support systems to better help children and families who face adversity and trauma.
• Stephanie Guthman, PhD, is the director of specialised training and assessment at Family Centre. For more information please go to www.tfc.bm or contact Dr Guthman at 232-1116