Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Trauma-Informed School Approach

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente, a health maintenance organization in San Diego, CA. The ACEs study began in 1995 and surveyed 17,337 participants. The study identified ten specific ACEs. The ten questions the ACEs study addressed include:

  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional neglect
  • Physical neglect
  • Parental abandonment (divorce, death, etc.)
  • Domestic violence
  • An incarcerated family member
  • A parent with a substance addiction
  • A parent with depression or another mental illness.

The study revealed that two out of three people had at least one or more ACE, and the prevalence of them proved to be a strong predictor of difficulties with learning, social functioning, health, and well-being, even through a person's adult years. Put simply, ACEs create long-lasting trauma.

Awareness of the ACEs by educators is leading to the emergence of what is known as the Trauma-Informed School Approach. A Trauma-Informed school works to create an atmosphere of emotional and physical safety for their students, which has been shown to positively impact both their personal and academic lives.

In 2010, Lincoln High School, a school in Washington State, became the first Trauma-Informed school. Their approach was so successful that over a three year period, the suspension rate dropped by 85% and graduation rates increased five times. An element of what played a role in the shift that occurred at the school was the understanding among the staff that the presence of even one supportive adult in their students' lives helped build much needed resilience.

The difference between being able to overcome and not being able to overcome a traumatic childhood is very simple. It’s a relationship -- someone who believes in the child.

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