ACE polls reveal that many in our community experienced significant childhood trauma
- on August 17, 2011
To be specific:
• 106 people indicated they'd lived with an alcoholic, problem drinker or someone addicted to street drugs.
• 194 people acknowledged they'd been emotionally abused.
• 161 noted they'd been physically abused.
• 155 indicated they'd been sexually abused.
For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, a recap: During two weeks -- from July 18 to July 29 -- we posted the simplified version of the ACE Study (the CDC's Adverse Childhood Experiences Study) questionnaire one question at a time in a daily poll. The 10 polls are aggregated here (you'll have to scroll down to find them). Each daily poll is accompanied by information about child trauma. You can find those on the ACEs group] page.
The CDC's ACE Study has been following 17,000 members of Kaiser Permanente, a health maintenance organization, in San Diego since the 1990s. Among this middle-class, overwhelmingly white, college-educated, employed population with great health insurance (Kaiser), the study found a link between childhood trauma, which was surprisingly common, and the adult onset of chronic disease. The ACE Study has been repeated in five states, the U.S. military has used it, as has the World Health Organization.
In the last post that accompanied the last poll on Friday, July 29, I promised to do an overview of all the polls by the following Monday. But I was so humbled that so many people were willing to revisit a difficult past by participating, however briefly, to vote in an anonymous poll, that I had to think about it for a while.
First....let's look at the results.
The screen grabs of all the posts are below. A reminder: These polls are completely unscientific. We published them just as a way to start the conversation.
Second....Just for conversation's sake, here are the ACE Study results for San Diego.
The weight of responses in our polls matches the top five in the ACE Study -- emotional, physical and sexual abuse; living with someone who's a problem drinker, alcoholic or addicted to street drugs; and losing a parent to divorce, abandonment or death.
Another remarkable finding of the ACE Study is that if a person had one adverse childhood experience, he or she was likely to have experienced others. In other words, family dysfunction usually isn't limited to just one thing. If a parent is an alcoholic, there's emotional or physical abuse or domestic violence that's likely to accompany it.
And the other eye-opener was that the more ACEs a person has, the more likely that disease will appear later in life. A person with an ACE score of four almost doubles her or his risk for obesity, heart attack and stroke; it almost quadruples the risk of emphysema.
Having childhood trauma doesn't mean that it will damage you for life. If there's an adult that steps in immediately to provide nurturing, then a child is likely to recover. However, if the trauma goes on for weeks, months or years, and there's nobody for the child to turn to, then stress hormones affect brain development, and a child has difficulty learning and interacting socially.
Third....What now? What are we going to do with this information?
I don't know. I think it's a question that our community has to answer, because my sense is that the people who participated in the poll are just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps seeing the range of what's happening in other communities across the U.S. might provide some ideas:
- Washington State has taken the biggest steps. They recently passed a law authorizing public-private partnerships to incorporate the ACE Study into local community public health and safety networks to prevent childhood trauma. Ruth Kagi, who sponsored the bill, posted this oped about it in the Seattle Times.
- A pediatrician in San Francisco changed her practice to incorporate the ACE Study.
- Trauma-sensitive classrooms are springing up in Massachusetts and Washington State.
- A man in Merced, CA, has set up a local nonprofit called ACE Overcomers to help teens and adults overcome their experiences with child trauma.
- An Arizona consortium has partnered with the local PBS station to raise awareness of ACE.
We've taken an important first step -- us hosting a poll, you participating.
What do you want to do next?