This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on July 23, 2017, on the ICTG blog.
How do life experiences in childhood end up with disease states half a century later?
More community and faith-based leaders need to be engaging this question. For example, if you're a church or ministry leader reading this post, are you familiar with the ACE Study? Do you know how many of your members or visitors have experienced ACEs and what kind of ACEs they've experienced? How are those experienced impacting your mission? Put another way, to what extent does your mission interface with ACEs? How does your congregation or ministry group actively counter the effects of ACEs?
Have I lost you? If so, please allow me to explain. Your health, your organization'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:
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
The magnitude of this correlation, and the complexity of dealing with the problem of severe stress in childhood after the fact is so huge, Dr. Felitti, says, realistically the only serious and effective approach is going to have to involve primary prevention. He admits, "No one knows how to do that, but it's the right question to focus on."
At ICTG, we recognize how many community-based and faith-based organizations 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 organizational leaders consider to what extent their agencies, youth members, or volunteers have experienced ACEs. For faith-based leaders, 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 Practices for Prevention
Ideally, schools, after-school groups, and congregations are safe havens – healing sanctuaries – from life's storms. They are the place where learning, play, 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 community.
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From 2012-2021, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and whole-community care.