At Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, we talk a lot about prevention. How do you keep kids out of the child welfare system? Prevention. How do you curb the drop out rate and encourage success in school among kids at risk? Prevention. How do you ensure stable, productive adulthood? You guessed it. Prevention.
But what is it, exactly, that we’re trying to prevent?
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
The logic is simple: If we can shield more kids from adverse childhood experiences, than by definition, we’re providing them an environment where they can reach their full potential. ACEs damage a child’s ability to trust, to learn, to self-motivate, to be autonomous. And that damage doesn’t go away. Let’s talk about why.
What is an Adverse Childhood Experience?
It’s an instance of abuse, neglect, violence, poverty or any other trauma that occurs in the life of someone under the age of 18. The Kaiser ACE study looked at 17,000 children to examine the prevalence of ACE exposure.
This graphic, from the Center for Disease Control’s Veto Violence website, shows that 64% of children in the study suffered an Adverse Childhood Experience. Physical abuse and substance abuse were among the most common. 12% of the youth in the study had experience 4 or more ACEs. Each exposure to an adverse childhood experience compounds the risk of future problems.
What does that mean for the child?
Children who are affected by Adverse Childhood Experience face a higher likelihood of problems, both as children and when they become adults.
The effects don’t stop there.
The high-risk behaviors and mental illness caused by multiple ACEs can dramatically impact all of us. Higher crime rates. Greater dependence on public assistance. Declining workforce readiness. These larger societal patterns begin with individuals. Reducing the number of individuals with ACEs may be the key to reversing these trends.
How can we prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences?
The answer to this question is simple, but it’s not easy. Preventing ACEs has immediate benefits for individual children, and long-term, far-reaching implications for our communities. But it requires a deep level of commitment from government leaders, educators, health care providers, parents and concerned citizens.
Preventing ACEs and mitigating their effects is a job for all Nebraskans. Right now, Prevent Child Abuse Nebraska is mobilizing councils across the state to decrease child abuse and neglect in their communities.
The Sixpence Early Learning Fund is establishing early childhood education programs that help kids exceed milestones and teach vulnerable parents how to engage with their children without abuse or neglect.
Communities like Fremont are teaching the PIWI (Parents Interacting With Children) curriculum to ensure healthy interactions.
Project Everlast is helping youth who have been through multiple ACEs transition to an adulthood that’s healthy and productive.
And we at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation are bringing the right people to the table to make lasting change for all of our children.
What can you do?
Foster a child who needs a safe, stable home. Be a friend to a new parent who is struggling. Support proven techniques like home visitation and parenting education. Or support organizations who do.