with disease states half a century later?"
Have I lost you? If so, please allow me to explain. Your health, your ministry's health, and the health of your greater community depend on your understanding ACEs and their far-reaching impacts.
ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. If you've been following this blog, you know we talk about them frequently.
If you're new to the topic, learn more about them in the following ways:
- View a TED talk by a prominent pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris that explains why ACEs matter to communities and how medical professionals are beginning to address the massive problem
- Read Bessel van der Kolk's salient book, The Body Keeps the Score, which will provide you with detailed descriptions about how childhood experiences of trauma result in sick adults
- Review findings from the original ACE study origins here
- Participate in an ever-expanding network of professionals who utilize this study in their own settings here
Perhaps most profound about the ACE study – besides the significant fact that it demonstrated trauma does not discriminate and exists in every community in the country – is the strong correlation it demonstrated between childhood experiences and adult onset illnesses.
The ACE study found that survivors of childhood trauma are nearly 5000% (yes, you read all those zeros correctly) more likely to attempt suicide, have eating disorders, or become IV drug users. In the video below, Dr. Vincent Felitti, the study's founder and co-conductor, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, details this remarkable and powerful connection.
With an ACE score of six – experiencing any six of the ten categories that were studied – that person was 4,600% more likely to become an IV drug user than a person who experienced none of those six categories. Now you read in the newspaper the latest cancer cure of the week – prostate cancer or breast cancer increases 30% and everyone goes nuts – I'm talking 4,600% increase. The same ACE score of six produces a likelihood of attempting suicide between 3,100% and 5,000% greater than the likelihood of suicide attempts in someone with none of those life experiences. So the power of this relationship is enormous. - Dr. Vincent Felitti
At ICTG, we recognize that congregations are prime locations for not only putting that question at the forefront but also for providing primary prevention. At ICTG, given the evidence, we recommend clergy, pastors, and ministry leaders consider to what extent their congregants, youth group members, or ministry members have experienced ACEs. We provide assessment tools to discern ACEs within your group and to gauge your organization's resiliency and response capacities in our General and Youth Ministry Resource Guides. Also, while becoming a trauma-informed congregation by creating a culture marked by specific traits, trauma-informed congregations can incorporate preventative measures into their common practices.
Trauma Informed Congregational Practices for Prevention
- Create policies for safety (see our previous post for links to tools for measuring safety among your congregation and creating policies) and keep them up-to-date
- Have a staff person dedicated to keeping well-educated on best responses to trauma and providing sound management of fellow staff members and lay leaders
- Keep all staff and lay leader volunteers well informed about current mandatory reporting laws and expectations
- Maintain an up-to-date and vetted referral base for local counselors, social workers, and spiritual directors
- Provide ongoing studies, prayer groups, and education classes that make use of best trauma response practices and understandings
- Dedicate specific annual worship service(s) for providing safe practices of prayer, confession, sacraments, or healing rituals for staff and members to acknowledge privately or corporately the existence of trauma among the community and seek restoration.
Ideally, congregations are safe havens – healing sanctuaries – from life's storms. They are the place where worship, confession, prayer and mission derive from true restoration of body, mind, and spirit in community. Every day, you are invited into making it so.
Share your stories in the comments below about how you see healing from ACEs happening in your congregation.
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