By Anne Broderius, West Elementary Principal
Hutchinson Public Schools is a proud member of PACT for Families Collaborative, a children’s mental health and family services collaborative, that serves to strengthen children, families, and communities. One of their current initiatives, Partners for Resilience, is providing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) & Resilience training through the help of a Bush Foundation grant. I am honored to have been selected to represent our school district and McLeod County at this two-day training in early April.
According to Minnesota Communities Caring for Children, ACEs are being considered a public health disaster. The ACE Study confirms that adverse experiences in early life increase physical, mental, and behavioral problems later in life. The first step in trying to heal this high level of concern within any community is to start courageous conversations on how our community can work together to change the future of this increasing public health concern. Schools across the nation are being impacted by the mental health needs of our children and families, and together we can commit to helping prevent ACEs for our children.
The original ACE study was conducted in California in 1995 with over 17,000 participants focusing on the first 18 years of life. This study included a physical exam and surveys about childhood experiences and current health status. Since 2009, the study has been conducted in several additional states and continues to support the original research, a high ACE score puts individuals at greater risk for developing negative chronic health conditions or negative life outcomes. The more ACEs a person has, the greater the risk for poor adult mental and physical health.
The original study looked at ten ACEs: emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, and household dysfunctions including mental illness, a mother treated violently, incarcerated relative, substance abuse, and divorce. Recent research is now including community and environmental ACEs such as racism, bullying, and community violence. They are proving to create the same biologic changes as the original ten ACEs.
ACEs directly impact the prenatal and early childhood years. Health in the earliest years, including a mother’s well being and overall mental health in the prenatal years, lays the groundwork for a lifetime of strong physical and mental vitality necessary for a child’s successful and positive life experiences. Sound health in the womb and in the early childhood years, provides a strong foundation for the construction of a child’s healthy brain, including the development of the body’s stress response system, cardiovascular system, immune system, and metabolic systems that continue well into the adult years. It’s simple, the brain undergoes its most rapid and important development during those critical early childhood years and those early experiences determine whether the architecture of the brain is robust or fragile. Any negative impacts or disruptions during this important development period can cause problems far into the adult years and lead to lifelong challenges in both physical and mental health.
When people hear about the ACEs study, they often ask about how do some people overcome these experiences and others do not. This is clearly related to resilience. Many also wonder, how can we ensure resilience in our children. In order to successfully support our children’s future, science that looks at resiliency backs the need to first understand ACEs. Next, focus on creating healthy environments where children feel safe both emotionally and physically, find early intervention resources to build a child’s capabilities, and find support networks that include stable relationships, including strong community, faith, and cultural approaches. It’s truly all about relationships – one of our school district’s core values.
If your organization is interested in learning more about ACEs, please contact me at West Elementary. I am eager to share this information in more detail and work with you to build our community’s capacity.