How do ACEs impact students' health, educational opportunities?

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Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, is a catalog of traumatic events that, when added together, can oftentimes predict a person's future health. Thing such as childhood neglect, an alcoholic parent, abuse in the home, and having a parent in jail are just a few examples of what would qualify as an ACE.

The CDC conducted an Adverse Childhood Experiences study which correlated the number of traumatic episodes in a child's life and health problems diagnosed later as an adult. From social and emotional challenges, to physical conditions such as diabetes, autoimmune diseases, heart disease and some cancers, the higher the ACEs score a person has, the more likely they are to develop chronic health conditions down the road.

A series of questionnaires exist to help a person identify their "ACEs score," with each checked event qualifying as one. The higher the total score, the more likely you are to suffer from ongoing health and emotional issues, or be held back from personal, educational and career opportunities. 

One study conducted by the Society for Research on Adolescence found direct and indirect connections between higher ACEs scores and dropping out of high school. 

Knowing this information, and how increased ACEs for a student can impact their future, Megan Shropshire, the School Health Manager for the Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health and Advocacy, was struck by a statement from a principal at a Greenville County School District school when he said, "We come to school every single day, and work as hard as we possibly can to help our students succeed, but we know the situations they're dealing with at home are preventing them from achieving those goals." 

She knew the Compassionate Schools model, and additional ACEs training, would be an additional way Prisma Health-Upstate could help school staff understand how childhood trauma and toxic stress impact the brain development of students and the impact they have on learning, behavior and health.

As a result, the Bradshaw Institute paid for the principals and entire faculty at each of the OnTrack schools to attend Compassionate Schools training. Expanding well beyond the training, Prisma Health-Upstate - through a grant from Health Greenville 2036 - funded a new position in Greenville County Schools called a "Trauma Informed Specialist." This person works with school leaders and administration to design a compassionate schools plan for each school that includes: the infusion of trauma informed practices to aid in transforming discipline practices, instructing staff on mindfulness practices, stress management and self care.

Greenville County Schools is also investing in its students by providing a mental health counselor for every elementary, middle and high school in the district. This is a huge step forward to help make sure every student receives the attention and resources they need to succeed. 

While it would be impossible to prevent the occurence of ACEs from happening, we can teach ourselves to be more informed about what qualifies as an adverse experience, the risk factors affecting families, the long term health implications ACEs can have on a person, and how to connect the appropriate interventions when needed. The more we understand how ACEs can impact a child, the more we can work to address those barriers and intervene when needed.




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