“If 20 million people were infected by a virus that caused anxiety, impulsivity, aggression, sleep problems, depression, respiratory and heart problems, vulnerability to substance abuse, antisocial and criminal behavior, retardation and school failure, we would consider it an urgent public health crisis. Yet, in the United States alone, there are more than 20 million abused, neglected and traumatized children vulnerable to these problems. Our society has yet to recognize this epidemic, let alone develop an immunization strategy.”
-Bruce Perry, childtrauma.org
Site Coordinator, Brett Madron and volunteer, Brianne Botzum were impacted by a youth development training that they attended this past week on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s). ACE’s are stressful or traumatic events witnessed or personally experienced such as abuse, neglect, substance misuse, household dysfunction, mental illness and incarceration (1). Nearly half of the students attending public schools are likely to have one or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and nearly a quarter of them will have three or more. Children and adolescents who are unable to get the proper support in working through these experiences revert to unhealthy coping mechanisms that can contribute to morbidity, disability, and social problems, as well as premature mortality (2).
“Contrary to popular belief, wealth and status do not prevent ACEs. In fact, privilege and wealth can become a means to hide dysfunction inside of a home,” Brett explains. Where many think that material poverty gives birth to ACEs, it is actually a relational poverty that is doing more damage. There seems to be a decline in the value of human relations with this upcoming generation, culminating in children and adolescents lacking the meaningful and necessary every day human connections. One of the fundamental, key components in helping youth with ACEs is providing youth with a hospitable environment that is conducive for learning, growing, relaxing, and having fun, a place for them to thrive. “This energizes me to continue to seek out more ways to create this kind of environment for my youth.” Brett states.
Brett reflects on the impact this training had on him, “On a fundamental level, it gave me more empathy for the kids in the classroom, sensitivity towards them, and more understanding if and when they have behavioral issues.” Brett has a sense of urgency to meet the needs of the youth in his program. He intentionally creates academic and enhancement lessons that unify, produce good morale between students and staff, and equip youth with tools to help bring order and healing to the challenges some face, in the limited time he has in the after-school program. It’s not only these intentional lessons implemented by CASE staff; but also, the overwhelming love, concern, and commitment they have towards the youth that will provide support for youth experiencing ACEs.
We can’t change a child’s life circumstances but we can make sure that the environment we welcome them into is safe and positive. This is what CASE does and although we don’t yet have evidence affirming that what we do has countered the affects of ACEs, experts in the field claim that a healthy environment will contribute to reversing or lessening the effects. This is our hope and prayer, please join us.
C.A.S.E. is a program of the Nashville After Zone Alliance. The Nashville After Zone Alliance is a network of coordinated after school programming for Metro’s middle-school students. NAZA is a partnership among the Nashville Public Library, MNPS, and other existing youth-serving groups. It is modeled on successful efforts in other cities and is organized around geographically-defined zones.
(1)“Adverse Childhood Experiences,” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, July 9, 2018, https://www.samhsa.gov/capt/practicing-effective-prevention/prevention-behavioral-health/adverse-childhood-experiences.
(2) Crnobori, Mary, “The Role of Life Experiences in Shaping Brain Development” (lecture, MNPS Wellness Center, Nashville, TN, February 13,2019).