Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (ages 0-17). More than twenty years of research into ACEs underscores the links between childhood experiences of abuse, neglect, community-level violence, and poor health outcomes in adulthood. High ACE scores correlate with an increased vulnerability to future violence, including violent crime victimization and human trafficking. The findings are clear: without trauma-informed interventions, young people with four or more ACEs displayed a markedly increased risk for adult health problems.
Over the past year, we screened 127 new referrals to understand past traumatic experiences. We asked these teens about experiences of direct and interpersonal violence, such as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, neglect, and family substance misuse. Over one-third (34.5%) of youthSpark clients reported 4+ ACEs, and 11% reported 7+ ACEs.
We also asked our youth about experiences of bullying and discrimination, witnessing violence, and involvement in the foster care system. Two-thirds of youthSpark clients (59.1%) reported at least 1 or 2 of these expanded ACEs, and 15% reported 3+ expanded ACEs.
Integrating these screenings into our practice allows us to identify and meet the needs of our youth more successfully. However, screening is only the first step. It must be coupled with case management and navigation services to help ensure youth receive the holistic wrap-around services and care they need to build a brighter future. Trauma-informed approaches recognize that many behaviors—such as substance misuse and other acting out behaviors—often serve as adaptive strategies to cope with the impact of trauma and child maltreatment.
youthSpark clinicians and case managers work one-on-one with youth to equip them with tools and strategies to successfully navigate trauma. youthSpark Clinical Director, Meghan Ready, notes, "Through our establishment of healthy, supportive relationships and education about trauma we are able to provide youth with the tools they need to overcome and elude further ACEs. We help our youth to identify safe people and spaces in their everyday lives so that they are able to bolster protective factors that enable them to thrive."