In $2.00 A Day, authors Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer write about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and how they can contribute to and create a reinforcing cycle with poverty and homeless. Citing a study from the late 1990s the authors write, “When … researchers surveyed more than 17,000 people from San Diego – most of whom were middle-class and had gone to college – they found alarmingly high rates of ACE exposure. Sixty-four percent reported at least one adverse childhood experience; more than a third had experienced two or more such events.”
This finding is alarming, and one that I would expect to have either remained constant since the late 1990s or increased. People across the United States, the research suggests, are living with past traumas that they may or may not have fully worked through and processed. The majority of people in the United States have suffered at least one ACE (if you extrapolate to the whole population), and over a third had experienced more than traumatic event as a child. Edin and Shaefer go on to write, “exposure to jut one ACE seems to negatively affect a child’s life chances, but what about the effect of multiple and repeated occurrences? The ACE researchers reported that ACEs were not only unexpectedly common, but their effects were found to be cumulative.”
ACEs negatively impact an individuals life as they grow older. This can be seen in individuals who have trouble managing daily stress, have trouble forming trusting relationships, or in those who develop dangerous addictions. All of these negative consequences can impact the economic, social, physical wellbeing of the individual, and can have impacts of the lives of their family, friends, and communities. As the number of ACEs in an individual’s life increases, the consequences also seem to increase, creating deeper problems. An individual with relationship and financial problems could find themselves in an insecure living arrangement, and if they have children, that could increase the ACE risk for that child, potentially recreating the cycle.
It is important that we as a society recognize the seriousness of ACEs. Children can hardly be blamed for the situations they find themselves in, but these situations can have life-long impacts on their behaviors, psychologies, and life outcomes for which we may blame them as adults. Failing to truly address ACEs and improve the lives of children by reducing the numbers of ACEs that any child may face, means that we will be living in the ongoing cycle of ACEs leading to worse life outcomes, increasing the chances of more ACEs for children in the future, leading to still more negative life outcomes in an ACE doom loop. Its clear that we cannot put the responsibility on individuals who have faced multiple ACEs to right their lives and stop this cycle on their own. It will take compassion, concern, and effort from those who were lucky enough to grow up without debilitating ACEs to make a difference.