A COMMUNITY CONNECTION FOR RECOVERY
• February 2020 •
From Juan Navarro, Executive Director
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs, are stressful or traumatic events that happen to us before the age of 18. This can include abuse, sexual assault, neglect, household dysfunction, domestic violence, and growing up with family members who have mental health and substance use disorders. Children who are chronically exposed this toxic stress can experience disruption in neurodevelopment. When this happens, cognitive functioning and the ability to cope with negative emotions can become impaired. Over time, traumatized children may adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance use, lack of anger management, or self-harm. Studies are showing that such reactions to toxic stress contribute to disease, disability, and social problems, as well as early death. The kicker is that it’s not uncommon: 63.5% of Californians have experienced at least one of the ACEs indicators, and 17.6% have experienced four or more. People with four or more ACEs are 30 times as likely to attempt suicide, up to 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke, cancer, or heart disease, and 1.5 times as likely to have diabetes.
California is taking notice. Governor Gavin Newsom recently dedicated $10 million to the development of an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) public awareness campaign and cross-sector training. The state’s first ever California Surgeon General, Nadine Burke Harris, has set a goal of cutting ACEs and toxic stress in half within one generation by raising awareness and strengthening response networks. L.A. CADA has been a trauma-informed agency since 2000, and we’re excited to participate in this new initiative. It’s time to address ACEs as a root cause of health and societal challenges – from addiction to homelessness.
Learn More: ACES on YouTube
“So, my name is Yolanda, and I’m 33. The reason I got into drugs is they help you forget. I didn’t have the best childhood, right? No dad. Born when moms was in prison. And she’s a crack addict and dealer. I have some pretty ugly memories, but I won’t go into that. I was raised by my grandma between mom’s times in jail or prison. When g-ma got sick, I went in foster care where they only let you stay until 18 – they call it ‘aging out’. After that, I was homeless off and on. History repeats itself you know? I went the same road as Moms, but with pot and opioids. I used for stress: being broke, my disability I have, depression, and (because) I could never keep a relationship together. Especially coming out of jail or being homeless, that life is hard — you need stress relief. Thankfully, my baby’s father helped get me into drug treatment. In recovery, I learned to face stress and anger and channel it into positive actions. I got child custody back while I was in treatment, and I am stopping the cycle I was born into. Wish I’d done it sooner.”
SPOTLIGHT – THE EVIDENCE IS IN:
Assessment for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Toxic stress from childhood trauma is often carried into adulthood, impacting the physical health of children and adults, behavioral health, and life expectancy. Now there’s a good instrument to screen for this trauma. The California Department of Health Care Services has approved a tool that helps providers identify Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that can lead to increased health risks. And it’s the only instrument of its kind to qualify for Medi-Cal reimbursement.
Called PEARLS (Pediatric ACEs and Related Life-Events Screener), the screen was developed by researchers from the University of California at San Francisco and the Center for Youth Wellness. The questionnaire screens for ten categories of adverse childhood experiences, including questions like,
- “Has your child lived with a parent or caregiver who went to prison?”
- “Has your child ever been separated from their parent or caregiver due to foster care or immigration?” and
- “Has your child experienced discrimination?”
Following assessment, physicians identify which respondents are facing low, intermediate, or high risks of symptoms and the health problems associated with ACEs. Even better, this tool is not just for children — PEARLS screens are also available for adolescents and adults.
Read more about: ACEs Screening for Children, Adolescents, and Adults