It’s pleasant to imagine that all children are well-adjusted, happy little creatures, soaking up knowledge and experiencing live joyfully.
While that’s the case with many kids, the sad truth in our world is that close to half of all children (45 percent) have experienced what are known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health show the prevalence of ACEs among children from birth through age 17.
And this brief from Child Trends expounds on the data.
What are ACEs? The definition has recently been expanded by researchers. Originally, children who had suffered from psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as exposure in the home to substance abuse, mental illness and suicide, incarceration, or violence were considered to have suffered an adverse experience.
Today, in addition to those traumas, the list has been expanded to include physical and emotional neglect, parental separation and divorce, exposure to violence outside of the home, living in unsafe neighborhoods, homelessness, bullying, discrimination based on race or ethnicity, and experience of income insecurity.
Economic hardship and divorce or separation of a parent or guardian are the most common ACEs reported nationally, and in all states.
Adverse experiences can, of course, have a deleterious impact on a child’s education. According to the Child Trends brief:
ACEs can cause stress reactions in children, including feelings of intense fear, terror, and helplessness. When activated repeatedly or over a prolonged period of time (especially in the absence of protective factors), toxic levels of stress hormones can interrupt normal physical and mental development and can even change the brain’s architecture. ACEs have been linked to numerous negative outcomes in adulthood, and research has increasingly identified effects of ACEs in childhood. Negative outcomes associated with ACEs include some of society’s most intractable (and, in many cases, growing) health issues: alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, suicide, poor physical health, and obesity. There is also some evidence that ACEs are linked to lower educational attainment, unemployment, and poverty.6 In childhood, children who have experienced ACEs are more likely to struggle in school and have emotional and behavioral challenges.
How can a Whole Education help ameliorate the negative effect of adverse experiences? First, by fostering caring, trusting relationships between children and adults in school.
Also, fostering resilience in children can help lessen the impacts of trauma. “Children who have experienced ACEs but demonstrate adaptive behaviors, such as managing their emotions, are more likely to have positive outcomes,” the brief reports. “Children and adults alike can help cultivate resilience—for example, through practicing self-care routines and strengthening key social and emotional skills such as empathy, self-regulation, and self-efficacy.”
Finally, school-based personnel can and should receive special training in “trauma-informed care (TIC):”
TIC describes a variety of approaches that acknowledge the impact of trauma, recognize its symptoms, respond to its effects through appropriate practices and policies, and prevent further traumatization. Programs and organizations that use a trauma-informed approach may not necessarily treat the consequences of trauma directly, but instead train their staff to interact effectively with participants who have been affected. This may include supporting participants’ coping skills and use of appropriate behavior management techniques.