Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and California’s Senate Resolution ACR 155

September 21, 2015

“ACEs” are adverse childhood experiences that harm developing children and have effects that show up throughout their lifetime. From many published research studies, we know ACEs are the root of much violence and being a victim of violence, and also the adult onset of chronic disease, depression and mental illness. Examples of ACES include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • A family member who is depressed or has a mental illness
  • A family member addicted to alcohol or drugs
  • A family member in prison
  • Witnessing a mother or sibling being abused
  • Losing a parent to separation or divorce

ACES are common, and nearly two thirds (64%) of adults have been exposed to at least one. Usually they don’t occur alone, people who have had an ACE have an 87% chance of having two or more. From schools to school districts to state and federal government, there has been much discussion about childhood adversity, and the roles that agencies should have in reducing it. On a large scale, the big hurdle in reducing the impact of adverse experiences is the cost – funding is needed. Family advocates must make a strong evidence-based case that money can be saved in the long run, and that the investment will be worth it.

Last year, the California Senate approved a resolution that encourages policies to reduce children’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences – primarily, violence, abuse, and poverty. The resolution is significant because it makes a strong case for using trauma research in policymaking. Specifically, ACR 155 makes the case for state policies to “consider the concepts of toxic stress, early adversity, and buffering relationships” and to note “the role of early intervention and investment in early childhood years.”

The California resolution echoes the language of the already-placed Wisconsin bill—the state’s policies should “consider the principles of brain development, the intimate connection between mental and physical health, the concepts of toxic stress, adverse childhood experiences, buffering relationships, and the roles of early intervention and investment in children…”

Far too many children grow up exposed to neglect, abuse, and household dysfunction. As these children grow into adults, they will suffer the consequences of these adverse experiences. Economically, this will mean inflated costs to the state’s juvenile justice system, criminal justice system, and public health systems.

As we have seen over and over in our sexual abuse cases, early years of a child’s life are critical for their development. It is promising to see government leaders making efforts to raise awareness and prioritize our children.