In the late 1990’s, Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study1 illuminating a little understood relationship between toxic stress a person has experienced due to traumatic events before the age of eighteen and a plethora of negative health outcomes. Researchers from these two institutions proved that the stress from traumatic experiences one may go through during childhood, such as living in a house where there is substance misuse or an abusive parent, does not simply dissipate over time. All of these stresses can stay with a person well into adulthood and lead to a higher risk of serious negative health effects, such as anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancers, and other ailments. This study opened many people’s eyes to what are now called “ACEs”, for Adverse Childhood Experiences, which are a major force shaping the health landscape of our communities.
Since this study was published, more research has been done on how ACEs can be passed down from generation to generation. For instance, if a child was living in a household where substance misuse was the norm, there is a higher chance that they will misuse substances in their lifetime and therefore have a higher chance that their own children will be subjugated to the same type of childhood trauma. This cycle of passing down ACEs is especially common in low income and socioeconomically diverse areas, though not limited by class.
My host site, the Northwest Side Housing Center, is committed to helping Belmont Cragin, a predominantly Latinx neighborhood on the Northwest Side of Chicago, become a “trauma-informed community”. One large component of being “trauma-informed” is to help individuals understand their own ACEs and learn steps to help mitigate the effects of those ACEs in healthy ways. In addition, it is also to learn how to recognize the signs of traumatic experiences in others and assist in building a culture in the community where members can aid one another to become more resilient in dealing with these traumas.
As a Outreach Coordinator serving at the Housing Center, I have been giving presentations to parents in schools across the Belmont Cragin Neighborhood on ACEs and resiliency. These presentations cover what ACEs are, their effects, how to talk about trauma, and about the importance of taking care of oneself. We hope to leave these parents, mostly mothers, with an understanding of their own traumas and how taking time to talk through them can help both themselves and their children lead healthier lifestyles now and in the future.
1Felitti, V.J. et al (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245-258. https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(98)00017-8/pdf
This blog post was written by 2018-19 NHC Chicago member Noah Lybik.
Noah is an Outreach Coordinator at the Northwest Side Housing Center.