Experts say that childhood experiences shape not just the child but also the adult. Think about your own childhood. Was it happy? Did you know the adults in your life loved you? What are the things that help you know you grew up in a loving home?
Many of us think we’ve had a mostly positive childhood experience with a few dips on the experience curve. For me, those dips are mostly related to the death of my beloved pets or the first time a boy broke my heart. But for some people, those dips are significant and shape their future.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and as director of the Child Abuse Prevention Fund, I hear heartbreaking stories way too much. Recently, we’ve been learning more about something called an adverse childhood experience (ACE). This is a traumatic experience a child has before the age of 18.
A study recently was conducted in California to identify things that would influence people to adopt risky behaviors or develop conditions that put them at risk for things like heart disease, obesity and alcoholism. Some of these influencing experiences include repeated physical, emotional or sexual abuse, an alcoholic or drug abuser living in the home and even separation or divorce.
This study showed that if a child experiences one or more of these experiences, he or she has an increased risk for many health conditions and risky behaviors as an adult. The study didn’t look at how severe the experience was, focusing instead on the number of ACE categories experienced. Of the 17,000 study participants, only 36 percent reported no adverse childhood experiences. The study then linked ACE scores to physical and emotional health diagnoses. The connection between the number of ACEs and significant health problems later in life was staggering.
So what does this mean for you and me? It means we need to keep working to prevent child abuse and neglect, not just during April, but all year long. I encourage you to go to stopchildabusetoday.org and make a donation to help us do just that.
The Child Abuse Prevention Fund collaborated with the Wisconsin Children’s Trust Fund and several Wisconsin state agencies to conduct its own ACE study. I invite you to read about the Wisconsin study. You also can connect with the Child Abuse Prevention Fund Facebook page for updates about Wisconsin-specific ACE information.
The Child Abuse Prevention Fund is a fundraising initiative of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Since 1988, the organization has distributed more than $10 million to support community-based child abuse prevention initiatives throughout Wisconsin.
Read more blog posts by Jennifer Hammel.