WHAT are ACEs and WHY do they matter?
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that happen to children and are linked with changes in brain regulation caused by chronic stress. Research findings, across all demographics, show that children who live with childhood adversities - such as domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, parental incarceration, caregivers with mental illness or addiction - suffer much higher rates of chronic health conditions, lower school and adult success and lower life expectancy across their lives. ACEs can be compounded when low-income families face additional challenges accessing resources needed to buffer their children from such hardships.
Five of the ten ACEs are related to child abuse and neglect.
However, there is hope! By ensuring that families with adversity live in supportive communities and in the presence of nurturing, protective caregivers, children can build resilience and be protected from the negative impacts of adversity. With the right support and systems in place, ACEs can be overcome.
In 2017, Cook Children's, along with the office of Tarrant County Judge B. Glen Whitley, the office of City of Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, the office of Tarrant County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks, JPS Health Network and Read Fort Worth convened to form the ACEs Task Force. Using a two-generation approach, the focus of the Task Force is on reducing the impact of ACEs on children prenatal to five years of age and prevent ongoing adversity for families, in order to improve school readiness, literacy, and overall child well-being. This concept bridges decades of research across multiple disciplines into community action by seeking new strategies to help families connect with early, protective supports to promote their child's healthy development.
With guidance from all sectors of the community, the ACEs Task Force committed to piloting a parent-oriented, community-driven solution that reduces the impact of adversities and increases school readiness for families with children who are prenatal to five years of age—the most critical period for brain development.
The ACEs Early Childhood Initiative utilizes a multi-strategy approach that involves broad, Tarrant County-wide impact, while also concentrating considerable efforts on the Stop Six community and the larger geographic area within the 76105 zip code of Fort Worth. These strategies have included the creation of the Circles of Support community blueprint, the development of a system to allow families to search for local resources using text messaging, as well as a pilot program to engage families in Stop Six around opportunities for them to learn more about their child's development and connect with resources that promote child health and well-being.
As we move into the third year of the ACEs Early Childhood Initiative, our goals are:
- Implement cross-systems community policies and practices to reduce the long-term effects of ACEs on children
- Provide ACEs-informed education to support community services
- Reduce the long-term effects of ACEs and increase protective factors for caregivers and children