This article is written in appreciation for the innovative work the Tillamook County School District is doing both to recognize Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and to integrate this information into how it’s serving students and families in Tillamook County.
By Tillamook County Women’s Resource Center
For the North Coast Citizen
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs), conducted by Dr. Vince Felitti of Kaizer Permanente and Dr. Robert Anda of the Center for Disease Control, was a groundbreaking study when it’s findings were released in 1998, and it confirmed what nonviolence advocates, social service and health care providers had witnessed for decades–violence is bad for your health. ACEs provided a wealth of information to illustrate how deeply our individual and community health is impacted by trauma.
The study focused on examining trauma through ten specific questions, which assess the adverse experiences in childhood related to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; neglect; and witnessing violence (note that it did not break down the frequency or severity).
The study results showed that the more types of trauma an individual experienced, or the greater the number of “yes” answers, up to ten, on the questionnaire, the more long term effects a person experienced in their social, emotional and cognitive development; physical health and mental health. High ACEs scores are strikingly correlated with obesity, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, autoimmune and liver diseases.
But here’s some hope, a person with a high score is at much greater risk for these long term mental and physical health effects, yet early intervention and support–from parents and family members, social service providers, behavioral health providers, teachers, support groups, etc. – can greatly reduce those risks due to the resiliency factor, the brain’s amazing ability to overcome the effects of trauma when sufficiently supported.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and we at the Tillamook County Women’s Resource Center are writing in support of the school district’s work with ACEs. Futures Without Violence, a national institute leading the way in research and training on violence and health effects states, “ACEs’ thinking must be integrated into domestic violence agency programming, just as a thorough understanding of intimate partner violence needs to be an integral part of ACEs work in any organization.”
At the Resource Center, we know intimate partner violence is a pattern of power and control behaviors that generally increase over time. The actions are selective and intentional. In the decades of work to end domestic violence, clear dynamics and tactics of abuse have been identified ranging from emotional, psychological, and financial abuse, to overt physical abuse.
Using children to control and manipulate the non-offending parent is sadly common. But violence is a choice. While that idea is sometimes hard to believe, it’s also hopeful, because if violence is a choice, then with appropriate systems of accountability and services for individuals who choose violence, individuals can and do change.
ACE’s make a strong case that we all must move to support the non-offending or protective parent, the parent who themselves is also being harmed by abusive behavior. Drs. Felitti and Anda found that where there is one ACE there is an 87 percent chance of another ACE. If a child grows up in a home with intimate partner violence that probability increases to 95 percent. Of all children exposed to domestic violence, 36 percent had ACE’s scores of four or more.
Socially and culturally, survivors, particularly those of intimate partner and sexual violence, have been shamed and blamed for another person’s decision to harm them. It’s been said that, “She must like it. Why else would she stay?”
We know that individuals choosing abusive behavior make it incredibly difficult for their partners and children to leave the situation. As the abusive behavior continues and increases over time, so too might the ACEs score, which makes supporting rather than shaming or blaming the protective parent even more critical.
The focus of attention and responsibility on the protective parent rather than the parent choosing abusive behavior is unproductive and dangerous. Non-accountability of the offender can be detrimental for the protective parent and the children. Integrating a thorough understanding of domestic violence into ACE’s work is crucial to successfully reduce adverse experiences and to build opportunities for resilience.
Research indicates that the number one protective factor in helping children heal from adverse experiences is the presence of a consistent, supportive, and loving adult, most often their mother. Helping and supporting children who have experienced trauma means also supporting protective parents and relatives in the process of building resilience for themselves and for their children.
Because trauma exposure can effect emotional and cognitive development, it’s important that schools are attuned to the experiences of their students, able to connect them to appropriate resources, and develop meaningful education plans for students with significant barriers to success in a traditional classroom setting. As a community it’s tremendously important to recognize that the effects of ACEs start early, not only affecting the child who experienced them, but also children, adolescents, and even adults who interact with them.
The early effects of ACEs are social problems we’ve been discussing for years: bullying and in-school fighting, teen dating violence and teen pregnancy, adolescent self harm and suicide, as well as early introduction to alcohol, drug use, and sexual activity. We commend the Tillamook School District for their innovative work, and we thank you.
It is our hope that ACEs work in our community doesn’t stop here. Everyone has a part to play in building a resilient community.
Will you join us in recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness month?
Oct. 26: From 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., at the Tillamook County library we will host a Trauma Informed Care in Practice community training to learn the skills of trauma informed services. Allison Brady, education and outreach coordinator from SAFE of Columbia County will be presenting (RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org). Brown bag your lunch. Light refreshments will be provided.
Oct. 28: Join us at the center, 1902 2nd St., at noon to participate in the Memorial Walk to honor victims of intimate partner violence in Tillamook county. We will walk to Carnahan Park for our annual commemoration.
Throughout October, you can request information for your school or business. Sport a purple ribbon on your car antenna to show your support for victims of intimate partner violence. Participate in “Shed a Light on Domestic Violence” by displaying strands of purple lights outside your home or business in support of ending this epidemic in our community.
Call Tillamook County Women’s Resource Center at 503-842-9486 for more information.