What are ACEs?
by Erica Waskey, ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Program Coordinator – Harford County
ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, are serious and potentially traumatizing incidents that occur in a child’s life before the age of 18. These experiences can include abuse, neglect, a parent with a mental health or substance abuse issue, parents divorcing or a parent in prison. The number of ACEs you experienced before your 18th birthday is how your score is determined. Think of your ACE number as a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of traumatic event. The higher your ACE number, the higher your risk for health, emotional and social problems. Things can start getting serious around an ACE score of four.
What does this mean for me? These stressors impact the way our brains and bodies develop. There is a powerful relationship between the number of ACEs someone has experienced in developmental years and unhealthy outcomes later in life. These include dramatically increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, substance abuse, smoking, poor academic achievement, time out of work and early death.
Why should I care about it? If we reduce the number of ACEs, studies show that we can decrease the number of people with depressive disorders by 44%. We could reduce COPD and asthma by 26%. The rates of smoking, drinking, and drug use would decrease by 30%, and the rate of unemployment could drop by 15%. These are community-impacted issues we can reduce by spreading information, increasing awareness, and connecting people to the right resources.
What can I do now? Learn about ACEs to heal your own trauma and help prevent your child’s ACEs score from going up. If you have experienced any ACEs, find a therapist and doctor that are trauma-informed. Integrate mindfulness, meditation, and grounding techniques into your daily routine. Promote safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments where children can live, learn, and play.
We can do this TOGETHER. Healing families, not just focusing on quick fixes, is the key to changing our society. There is power in numbers, and knowing your ACEs number is just the first step! If you are interested in finding your ACEs number, local mental health resources, or signing up for an ACEs training, please visit our “Reducing Harford County ACEs” site, linktr.ee/HarCoACEs