Research on the impact of what are known as “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” described in more than 70 studies over more than two decades, shows the potential long-term health and mental health consequences of unusually stressful childhood experiences.
These contribute to the risk of developing diabetes, chronic obstructive lung disease, heart disease, obesity, liver disease, sexual victimization, depression, substance abuse, and a host of other issues.
The impact of corrosive childhood stress can be cushioned by protective factors such as parents’ capacity for empathy, having a nurturing extended family, economic stability, accurate knowledge of child development, effective stress management skills, engagement with nurturing and supportive role models, and children’s access to mitigating experiences.
Take the ACES survey. The number of “yes” responses is your ACE Score.
In the initial study of 17,000 employed, mainly white middle class people with good health insurance as adults, 2/3 had at least one ACE, and of these, 87 percent had two or more.
More ACEs were correlated with more adult problems.
A score of 4 or more meant a 390 percent increase in the likelihood of COPD, a 460 percent in likelihood of depression, and a 1,220 percent increase in likelihood of suicidality. Mitigating factors can make a big difference, if available.
Consider what policies and budgetary decisions contribute to heightened or overlooked risk – or to mitigation. Consider that large and complex caseloads, or staff turnover, or lack of resources to turn to affect the effectiveness of DSS and other agencies’ work.
In 2019, Otsego County Child Protective Services staff responded to 1,034 reports of suspected child maltreatment, an especially difficult and sometimes dangerous job. Of 29 caseworker positions, at times six were vacant in 2019. Eight positions are specifically CPS.
They are fortunate to have the Child Advocacy Center, under the District Attorney’s auspices, to assist with assessing challenging situations. In 2018, the CAC dealt with 90 cases. In 2019, a 30 percent increase to 127.
We know what it takes to make a difference. Keep your ACES awareness alive as you contemplate the value of an “ounce of prevention”. Take care of yourself. Take care of the children. Get and offer help.
For detailed information on programs serving Otsego families, see our Parent Handybook, found on the county website at www.otsegocounty.com; click on Social Services, then on Parent Handybook. This is in the process of being updated, hopefully to be completed by late summer 2020.
Finally, take a moment to enjoy the blue and silver pinwheels displayed around the county, reminding us of happy and secure childhoods, and of the protective power of prevention.
Bill Hayes, a retired Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a member of the Otsego Committee on Child Abuse & Neglect, lives in Toddsville. He prepared this column in April, Child Abuse Prevention Month.