How did you spend your summer? The perennial fall question asked of students and teachers alike. I spent part of my summer gathering data from our youth by asking the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) questions, thanks to a grant I received from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey (@HorizonBCBSNJ). This past spring I created what I refer to as the ACEs Plus survey – which included the original 10 ACEs questions (www.acestudy.org) plus additional questions derived from ongoing research about urban ACEs. I began collecting this information this past spring and exceeded my goal of surveying 90 students this summer.The original 10 ACEs include 5 questions about personal trauma (abuse and neglect) and 5 about household dysfunction (witnessing violence in the home, depression, substance abuse, incarceration). Urban ACEs look at racism, witnessing violence outside the home, neighborhoods feeling unsafe, foster care and bullying. Heavy stuff.
ACEs are important to recognize because they strongly correlate with the likelihood of both physical illness (heart disease, lung disease, cancer) and mental illness (depression, mood disorders, difficulty maintaining a job or home) through adulthood. Indeed, a person who scores 6 or more on the original 10 questions is likely to die 20 years earlier than someone without a history of childhood trauma. Trauma is difficult, sometimes impossible, to talk about – and yet talking is key. With the original ACEs study, completed in 1998 on mostly white, middle class participants, it was recognized that just being asked the questions – and having the yes answers affirmed – was healing. Physician office visits went down by 35% when patients were regularly asked these questions as a part of initial history gathering.
So I asked our youth all these questions, and I was stunned this summer when I did the numbers:
- 60% of the youth I surveyed (92 of them between 14-19 years old) had already lost of loved one to accident or illness.
- 45% didn’t feel loved at home
- 49% had a family member who has been incarcerated
- 40% live with someone who abuses a substance
- 64% have experienced racism
And these are just the biggest numbers. 52% of our youth have ACE scores > 3; 30% > 4 meaning the likelihood of depression increases 460 percent over their lifetime! (http://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score)
High ACEs scores are not destiny – it is important to realize that. But they do put people at high risk – and our youth at UrbanPromise are definitely in the high risk category. Fortunately there is also research being done on what to do about all this – one remedy being: to have a close relationship with a trustworthy adult, something at which UrbanPromise excels. My next blog will discuss what else we are doing, thanks again to funding from the Horizon Foundation.
Our 8th grade graduation class of 2014