There are times in life when four aces is a tough hand to hold.
Common themes on this public policy forum include poverty and its causes and cures, school failure and related discipline matters, health problems and the difficulty understanding why these conditions remain so widespread in this great nation and commonwealth. I invite you to temporarily suspend your preconceived notions and examine some hard data that upset some of mine.
My quick summary is not doing this work justice but this is a blog, not the New Yorker.
More than twenty years ago two researchers on opposite sides of the country were feeling their way toward explaining strong correlations they observed between childhood experiences and later physical diseases. One noted that people who dropped out of obesity treatment were often sex abuse victims. A collaborative study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente. About 17,000 people were asked to fill out a simple 10-question survey on various adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and then the results were correlated with their health records.
Here, take the test yourself.
The results were astounding. Adults who had high ACE scores also were substantially more likely to have – decades later — a number of health problems up to and including early death. People with a score of six or more were potentially looking at lifespans of 20 fewer years. From the summary I linked: “Compared to an ACE score of zero, having four adverse childhood experiences was associated with a seven-fold (700%) increase in alcoholism, a doubling of risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a four-fold increase in emphysema; an ACE score above six was associated with a 30-fold (3000%) increase in attempted suicide.”
It was widely known that children who were physically or sexually abused were more likely to become offenders themselves, and the concept of psychosomatic illness is ancient. We’ve long talked about the cycle of poverty. But here was hard proof in a simple and easy to replicate study. It then led to brain studies that discovered that trauma and the resulting floods of cortisol and adrenaline actually change physical brain structures. The how is becoming clearer.
This initial group was not a low-income population. Heart disease, depression, family violence, drugs and learning problems are not limited to poor neighborhoods. But the work has sparked a slowly spreading revolution in education and social services.
Consider the implications of simply changing the question “What is wrong with this child?” to “What has happened to this child?” When you make that mental shift, does it change the way you think about the argument over long suspensions for primary school students with control issues? Do you really think sitting out of school for a long period (unsupervised) is going to change anything? Do you worry a little bit more about the impact on a child of a being evicted a series of times? Are you a bit more interested in providing Medicaid to the whole family instead of just the children?