Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) are traumatic events that happen in childhood, including abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. While it’s easy to understand the mental and emotional impact of such events, a groundbreaking study by CDC-Kaiser Permanente in 1998 uncovered physical effects. Adults with a score of 4 or more were at a significantly greater risk for many behavioral, physical, and mental health issues later in life such as smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, diabetes, STDs, cancer, heart disease, broken bones, and stroke.
These health inequities are even more apparent during the pandemic and may help explain why COVID-19 has been more deadly among low socioeconomic populations. There is a direct link between poverty, the accumulation of ACEs, and the toxic stress they produce. When people lack the resources to help deal with the trauma, their negative effects are compounded.
Over time, this toxic stress will literally change a person’s epigenetic profile, turning on or off specific genes. This not only affects individuals but entire families. The way our bodies respond to stress can be passed from one generation to the next.
WHAT CAN BE DONE
Although it’s been more than 20 years since the landmark study, applying our knowledge of ACEs in a public health setting has been vastly underutilized. That is why C3S enables ACE scoring using AI analytics. By assigning each person an ACE score, pediatricians, health workers, and social workers have a better understanding of a child’s current needs and how they may address them to prevent future health risks.
Another important role of an ACE score is its ability to increase awareness and empathy.
When social workers, teachers, and medical professionals see a child’s ACE score, they better understand what a child is dealing with and how their experiences may be impacting their behavior. It can be as simple as reframing “What’s wrong with you?” with “What happened to you?” C3S empowers teachers, social workers, caseworkers, health workers to find and allocate resources to help children become upwardly mobile. In other words, it offers them a way out.
Early intervention is crucial, as studies have shown it can actually neutralize the negative impacts of ACEs. When children are part of a nurturing and caring environment, they learn resilience to protect themselves from toxic stress and the future health problems it produces. In other words, ACEs don’t seal a child’s fate.
The most important piece of helping children cope with ACEs is teaching resilience. When children connect with support groups, they can build confidence and increase social capital — a concept that defines a person’s ability to solve problems and secure benefits through their social networks.
Because many of these behaviors and stress responses are inherited, it’s critical to give children supportive and nurturing adults outside of their own families, whether through afterschool programs, mentorship or group therapy.
THE ROLE OF C3S and COVID-19
C3S helps facilitate ACE intervention by acting as a centralized community platform. Through an intuitive search feature, parents and other caregivers can find and connect with local nonprofits or community centers that offer children the help they need. COVID-19 and the stress it has caused only adds fuel to the fire, intensifying a need for immediate action.
It also strengthens communication — a key component of support. Social workers or other nonprofit employees can instantly connect with children or their parents via SMS text, instant message or email through the C3S dashboard.
THE ROAD AHEAD
It isn’t easy to turn the tide of generational health problems, but an understanding of ACEs and early intervention is a promising place to start. There’s a lot at stake: an ACE score of 4 increases your risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and attempted suicide by 1200 percent. A score of 6 or higher can shorten your lifespan by 20 years.
ACEs contribute to most of our major chronic health, mental health, economic health, and social health issues. Increasing awareness through a community platform like C3S can educate the general public and help caregivers more accurately treat and support children with early intervention measures. An investment today can mean billions of dollars saved in future healthcare costs.