Trauma can result from large, significant events—a death, abuse or loss, for example—or smaller events over a period over time. Either way, these experiences can negatively impact our overall health and wellbeing, especially when they occur during childhood.

These types of experiences, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences and often referred to as “ACEs”, can be tied to a variety of health and social problems, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente.

That’s why having an understanding of ACEs and how they can impact an individual’s life is important in our work at FSSA. To broaden ACE knowledge within our organization, Chief Advocacy Officer Peggy Welch and Sirrilla Blackmon, LCSW LCAC, deputy director with the Division of Mental Health and Addiction, completed an in-depth ACEs Master Training. They are using what they learned and are continuing to learn to raise awareness within FSSA about ACEs and how they can affect long-term health. 

“It is of great value for people to have an understanding of ACEs. Learning about ACEs brings a greater awareness of the adversities individuals encounter that sometimes influence their situation and interactions with others. This enables us to approach clients and patients and even family and friends with greater understanding and empathy,” explains Peggy. “By FSSA team members understanding the impact of adverse childhood experiences we can better come alongside of our clients so they may have a positive experience that supports resiliency. It could also help us connect our clients with resources we may not have originally suggested.”

ACEs training plans

Peggy says the initial goal is for interested FSSA employees to become ACEs champions. An eventual goal would be for new employee onboarding to include ACEs training, so all employees have a basic understanding of adverse childhood experiences might affect them, and our clients, patients and consumers.

Why knowing about ACEs is important

  • Changes how you think about the causes of ACEs and ways to prevent them
  • Shifts the focus from individual responsibility to community solutions
  • Reduces stigma around seeking help with parenting challenges or for substance use, depression or suicidal thoughts
  • Promotes safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments where children live, learn and play

A suggested way of thinking

Dr. Sullivan jokingly suggests that it would be nice if everyone had a thought bubble over their heads that would tell us their ACE score.  Hopefully knowing that score might affect how we respond to that person in a stressful or awkward situation.  But since we aren’t able to know someone’s ACE number, nor should we, Dr, Sullivan suggests that we assume that everyone has an ACE number of 4 or more and therefore extend some grace and patience.

How do you determine your own ACE number?

The CDC and Kaiser Permanente in the early 1990s developed a list of 10 questions about experiences a person may have had before the age of 18.  The more yes answers to the questions the greater possibility of a person may be physically, mentally, and emotionally impacted. If you are interested in answering these 10 questions to determine the number of ACEs that may have impacted you, here is an assessment tool you can use. You can learn more now by visiting the Indiana ACEs Coalition website.

About Surroundings

Our surroundings either help or hamper our growth and development. This is especially true with our housing, but it can also include our neighborhood, nearby greenspaces and public infrastructures like sidewalks, roads and bridges. When our surroundings provide us with a sense of stability and control, we are more likely to have stronger physical and mental health. Conversely, when we have inadequate housing, we are more susceptible to long-term or chronic health problems and poor childhood development. If we want to impact the health of our communities, focusing on the “built environment” is a certain way to positively influence it.