By: Jaclyn Taylor

It is no secret that the world is facing unprecedented times. Many individuals are struggling to work from home, homeschool children, and maintain social interactions amidst a global pandemic causing surmounting financial and sociological pressures. However, there is a subset of our population that is dealing with a unique and overlooked risk. This portion of our population has always faced this risk, however, this risk is now a heightened danger caused by the effects of today’s current climate. Those individuals are our children. More specifically, our children who face situations motivating toxic stress for prolonged periods of time during their childhood, likely enhanced by the state of our current world.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur during childhood or when a child experiences toxic stress for a prolonged period of time. In 1995, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), studied and coined the term toxic stress defined as an “excessive activation of stress response systems on a child’s developing brain, immune system, metabolic regulatory systems, and cardiovascular system”. When a child faces one or many ACEs for a prolonged period of time, their body produces a long-lasting stress response that can vary in the level of detrimental impact given the number of ACEs experienced and time that the ACEs last. The child’s body is attempting to develop and grow, but the existence of ACEs cause all of the body’s energy and resources to combat the toxic stress. If a child’s body directs its main sources of energy and resources to combatting toxic stress for an extended period of time, the child’s brain, immune system, metabolic regulatory systems, and cardiovascular system not only fail to develop properly but show wear and tear from being under constant stimulation for the rest of their life.

The recognized ACEs include:

1. Physical Abuse
2. Emotional Abuse
3. Sexual Abuse
4. Physical Neglect
5. Emotional Neglect
6. Mental Illness within the household
7. Mother treated violently within the household
8. Divorce and/or parental separation
9. Incarcerated Relative
10. Substance Abuse
11. Bullying
12. Community Violence

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children with a high number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are directly linked to long term physical, mental, and emotional health issues. The more ACEs a child experiences during the ages of 0-17, the more likely they are to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, poor academic achievement, unstable employment, substance abuse, suicide and varying degrees of mental health issues. More recent studies show secondary effects of experiencing ACEs during childhood, including increased risk of injury generally, teen pregnancy, involvement in sex trafficking, food insecurity, frequent residential relocation, and inability or difficulty forming healthy and/or stable relationships.

It is important to note that a child faces the heightened danger of these effects by experiencing only one ACE. The CDC estimates that up to 1.9 million cases of heart disease and 21 million cases of depression could have been avoided or mitigated by attempts to prevent the impact of ACEs through early intervention over the last decade. The prevalence of ACEs in the lives of our children only increase by the day, especially in unprecedented times, and need to be combatted immediately. The good news is that the effects of ACEs are entirely preventable and/or treatable. The number one way to combat the effect of ACEs are safe relationships. By creating and maintaining relationships with children experiencing ACEs that are nurturing, stable, and responsive, children experience a much-needed break in an ongoing traumatic experience. These relationships act as a buffer for the child and gives them reprieve from the potentially toxic stress, which allows their growing and developing body to have a break.

It is important to note that the list of recognized ACEs include divorce, parental separation, and others that can be potentially involved in all types of family law cases. If your child(ren) or children you know are experiencing or have experienced ACEs, act now. Create or find buffer relationships for them. Enroll or facilitate enrollment in therapy. Ensure that the child’s basic needs are being met. Short term intervention now has the potential to prevent serious consequences to a child’s health and well-being. Protect your child’s health and safety now and in the future by preventing the effects of any Adverse Childhood Experience that is relevant to them.

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Photo by Benjamin Manley on Unsplash.