Adverse Childhood Experiences

Adverse Childhood Experiences

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.

How Close Together Success and Failure Can Be

Ta-Nihisi Coats, author of Between the World and Me, reflects on his childhood and how close he was at many points in his life to stumbling down the wrong path. Coats grew up in a rough part of Baltimore and had to make daily decisions that could push his life in the wrong direction or help him stay afloat. As a young black man Coats remembers the challenge of making these daily decisions and describes how these decisions physically manifested in his life. Making the right decision was not always clear, and making the wrong decision (or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time) often resulted in physical harm. The challenge for Coats was that the right and wrong decisions were never clear. Many times the wrong decision led to physical harm and pain, but oftentimes, so did the right decision.

“What was hiding behind the smoke screen of streets and schools?” Coats asked. “And what did it mean that number 2 pencils, conjugations without context, pythagorean theorems, handshakes, and head nods were the difference between life and death, were the curtains drawing down between the world and me?”

Coats described the importance of being tough and understanding how to navigate the streets where he grew up. Even well intentioned children could unintentionally cross the wrong child or the wrong person on the street corner, and even worse, if their parents had issues with dangerous people in the neighborhood, then so did the children. Not shaking hands the right way with the right people and not being able to give the right head nod to the right guys could place ones life at risk, no matter how well one did in school. With such an imminent threat of danger in the streets, the world of number 2 pencils, abstract education principles, and distant payoffs from education were too hazy to be taken seriously. Survival became the main goal, and survival required a set of skills that did not align with the world of education created by the people outside the ghettos.

All of this created a world where Coats and his friends constantly had to walk a fine line between success and failure. The inability to focus in class and build the mental skill set needed to find a good job later in life put their futures in risk, but at the same time, the inability to understand the streets and protect oneself put ones current life at risk. Few could ever navigate this world by shutting out the negative of the social world around them to excel in school, but all were expected to do so, and many would go on to be criticized for not successfully navigating such treacherous terrain from elementary through high school. A wrong step, a few bad grades, an unintentional insult to the wrong person, and success (or even life) could be taken away from Coats and the children he grew up with.