Could the reason why we see the cycle of poverty, violence and trauma be repeated in generation after generation actually be linked to our genetics? Perhaps so, new research is finding.
I recently attended a conference here in Vermont focused on the ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study produced by Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control. The ACE test surveys individuals as to if they have been exposed to eight different Adverse Childhood Experiences which includes challenges like experiencing abuse, difficult “household changes” and neglect. Over time the researchers monitored the individual’s health conditions and looked to see if there was any connection between an individual’s traumatic experiences in childhood and their long term health conditions. The people studying these experiences learned that the higher amount of Adverse Childhood Experiences that someone has experienced as a child, the higher the level of risk they will have for developing major health challenges like cancer, diabetes, depression etc. Additionally, the higher the ACE score the more likely someone will experience a life challenge like alcoholism and substance abuse, (and not surprisingly) domestic and sexual violence. Additionally they learned that the higher the ACE score, the person’s life expectancy significantly drops. As a result of this study we can clearly conclude what advocates have assumed for years, trauma impacts the whole of a person’s being and can impact their physical and mental health too.
On a separate but related note to ACES, research scientists have also found that certain fears, depression, anxiety and trauma can be passed down from generation to generation (the process called epigenetics). Now what we can assume from combining this knowledge with the ACE is that trauma directly impacts and impacts our body so deeply that it can not only change us, but also the generations that follow.
While there continues to be a growth in knowledge, research and spreading the word about the ACE study is also group of people who are working to support children and families experiencing high ACE scores and generational cycles of poverty and violence. We are truly learning from these studies that we must build resilient communities which address all areas of children’s development. Stemming out of this concept comes the idea of building “Promise Communities”. These communities all were awarded a grant to help create and establish a community modeled after Harlem Children’s Zone, a community which has set itself apart from others by creating a network of education, family supports, community involvement and health services focused on supporting children and families. We are finding that what works best for individuals experiencing high levels of trauma is if we have an early intervention of wrap around serves and supports waiting to assist them.
Here in Vermont, I am thankful that we are beginning to consider how trauma impacts generations. I do believe that there is a lot more than meets the eye when we consider the root causes of many of the “issues” we are facing in our communities in Vermont. I believe that changes will start to take place when we focus inside of ourselves to see how trauma has impacted our own life and also begin to look into our community to see how trauma is impacting each member of our community. It is clear we have a lot of work to do when it comes to creating a safe environment for children who have experienced high ACE scores but it is not something beyond reach. I look forward to seeing how our community will continue to address high ACE scores.
FOR FUTHER INFORMATION:
To learn more about ACES I suggest watching this short TED talk by Nadine Burke Harris.
Here’s a great video on epigenetics!
Here’s a great TED talk on how to help kids dealing with ACES (bonus point the presenter has a great accent!)