I’ve had the opportunity to work in the behavioral health field for nearly three decades and in that time have had the honor of working with many people; many who courageously confronted and overcame adversity. Back when I started in the field we knew about the importance of resiliency but today we know so much more than we did back then thanks to research in neuroscience, brain development and other areas.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, often referred to as simply “the ACEs study”, was one of the largest studies (more than 17,000 participants) ever conducted to look at the connections between childhood maltreatment and long term well being. In the late 90’s, the ACE study findings were considered groundbreaking and reinforced what many survivors of trauma, health providers, counselors and others had intuitively believed all along - that childhood adverse experiences place a person at greater risk for significant lifelong impacts. Research participants that had experienced childhood maltreatment had increased rates of chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes or hepatitis; increased rates of psychiatric issues such as depression or suicide; and were at higher risk for behaviors such as early initiation of smoking, adolescent pregnancies or illicit drug use compared to adults who had not experienced child maltreatment.
AK Child & Family gathers information on childhood trauma that includes the areas originally identified in the ACE study, plus a few additional areas that we believe also impact many of the youth and families we serve. A one year snapshot of the types of childhood trauma, as reported to intake clinical therapists at the time of admissions into AK Child & Family is represented in the graph below. For example, 52% of students admitting into community programs and 85% of students admitting in residential services presented with a history of childhood physical abuse. The average across both programs of 69% is reflected in the graph below.
The majority of the students served at AK Child & Family, no matter which program they were enrolled in, typically experienced multiple childhood traumas highlighting the critical importance of weaving trauma informed care approaches into our work with students and their families. Trauma informed care has been described as, “an appreciation for the high prevalence of traumatic experiences in persons who receive mental health services and an understanding of the profound neurological, biological, psychological and social effects of trauma and violence on the individual (Jennings, 2004).”
Nearly 30 years after starting in this field, I continue to be impressed at the strength many of the young people and families we work with have, the deep seeded desire to triumph over obstacles and the courage and tenacity it takes to fully engage in treatment. “Emerging neuroscience has also yielded some good news: ACEs are not destiny. If the human brain can be hurt, it can also be healed. And it is up to all of us to aid in that healing, creating communities in which everyone can thrive (The National Collaborative on Adversity and Resilience hosted by the Institute for Safe Families and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation).”
I end this blog with photos from a past Photovoice project that some of our students participated in to help tell their stories of hurt, hope, resiliency and healing through photography. The pictures were taken by students and the captions are their own words.
More information on The National Collaborative on Adversity and Resilience can be found at http://www.healthfederation.org/publications/NCAR%20Final%20Report%20Executive%20Summary.pdf
More information on the Key Principles of Trauma Informed Care can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/traumajustice/traumadefinition/guidelines.aspx