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It starts at home

Impact from ACEs can be overcome

March 5, 2019


Home environments built on Adverse Childhood Experiences in which children grow up have lifelong implications.

The earliest stages of development occur during one’s childhood, so any experiences during that time can have a substantial impact on lifelong physical and mental health, especially if they are negative. Harmful effects on the foundation of brain structure can occur, which can result in unhealthy coping behaviors, low-life potential and even death.

“Childhood experiences provide the building blocks for future learning, behavior and health, which provide the brain with a sturdy foundation for future development,” said Melissa Merrick, senior epidemiologist for the Center of Disease Control. “Early adverse experiences like abuse, neglect or unhealthy relationships can impede the progress of a strong foundation, affecting brain architecture and optimal development. While some degree of adversity is a normal and essential part of human development, exposure to frequent and prolonged adversity can result in a toxic stress response.”

Early adverse experiences like abuse, neglect or unhealthy relationships can impede the progress of a strong foundation, affecting brain architecture and optimal development.”

— Melissa Merrick

Toxic stress responses can cause disruptions in the development of bodily organ systems as well, which can result in an increase in health issues and social consequences. To prevent these types of problems, one can start from the core of the issue: how children are raised and treated. Through the CDC’s program, this goal can be achieved.

“CDC promotes lifelong health and well-being through the Essentials for Childhood Framework, ensuring safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children. The Essentials for Childhood Framework proposes strategies communities can consider to promote relationships and environments that help children grow up to be healthy and productive citizens so that they, in turn, can build stronger and safer families and communities for their children,” Merrick said. “Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments may stop ACEs before they even happen by building a strong foundation of healthy relationships and environments through which children can thrive and reach their full health and life potential.”

The relationships built with children and adolescents are only a small factor of the solution. The environment they grow up in also has some effect, and because of this, ACE advocates try their best to provide adults with information on how to improve their living situations.

“Safe, stable, nurturing environments play a large role in preventing ACEs by creating a context and atmosphere that allows families to share quality time together, to discuss and resolve conflicts, and to provide emotional support to one another. Community and organizational decision-makers — both in the private and public sector — also play an important part by developing policies that create conditions and resources that support safe, stable, nurturing environments that benefit children and families,” Merrick said. “CDC’s technical package for preventing child abuse and neglect identifies a number of strategies to help states and communities prioritize prevention activities based on the best available evidence. These strategies range from a focus on individuals, families and relationships to broader community and societal change.”

ACEs should not overcome an individual’s ability to live a free and happy life. Everyone experiences a form of adversity, but the way it is handled and how one recovers is what is important.

“It is important to remember that both positive and negative childhood experiences can have impacts on health and well-being,” Merrick said. “If someone has ACEs, this does not mean they will definitely experience health or social impacts. That’s good news, since we know that the majority of people have experienced some form of childhood adversity. But everyone responds differently to ACEs, and many of us have positive experiences in childhood and youth that can greatly offset and outweigh our negative experiences.”

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