By Julie Muhlstein Herald Writer
EVERETT — It could be abuse, family violence, a parent’s mental illness or substance abuse, or the loss or incarceration of a loved one.
In social service and education circles it’s called an ACE. That’s an adverse childhood experience.
Those situations are clearly painful for kids. Major research is also finding that tough early experiences can create lifelong problems with learning, health, happiness and security.
Parents are invited to a free Adverse Childhood Experiences Forum at 7 tonight at the Imagine Children’s Museum. The event, sponsored by the Snohomish County Children’s Commission and other partners, is aimed at helping parents understand how children are affected by past trauma. Experts will share ways to help children become resilient and build healthy lives.
“The whole purpose of the forum is to get the information out there. Our task this year is to make ACEs common language,” said Nancy Mickels, a member of the county Children’s Commission. “This is about stopping the cycle and learning about resiliency in children. Why do some children go through a difficult time and survive to be strong, while others are eaten up by it?”
Speaking tonight will be Pam Wessel-Estes, a Snohomish Health District policy analyst and Children’s Commission member; Maurene Stanton, principal of Lincoln Hill High School in the Stanwood-Camano School District; Joe Neigel, a father of five who has worked for Snohomish County’s human services department in alcohol and drug prevention; and Laura Hamilton, a retired teacher of children with special needs.
Many professionals who work with kids know all about an ongoing study being conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Working with more than 17,000 Kaiser Permanente patients in California, the study that started in 1995 is tracking the health and progress of participants who were surveyed confidentially about their childhoods and family issues.
“I’m very excited about this event,” said Jim Teverbaugh, executive director of the Snohomish County Federated Health and Safety Network. “What it means to me is that the work we’ve been doing is really beginning to reach out to other organizations,” said Teverbaugh, who co-authored a Herald opinion piece on the subject in 2011.
People attending the forum will see a brochure, “Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences,” created by the Health and Safety Network and the Children’s Commission. It contains eye-opening results from the federal study:
Two-thirds of the 17,000 people studied reported at least one adverse childhood experience; in teens with four or more such experiences, nearly 20 percent will have attempted suicide and 25 percent will have intercourse before age 15. The study also found that compared with adults with no adverse childhood experiences, adults with four or more are twice as likely to be smokers, seven times more likely to be alcoholic, 10 times more likely to have used street drugs, and 46 times more likely to attempt suicide.
A separate Washington State University study, conducted in 2010, shows a direct correlation between the numbers of adverse childhood experiences and increased risk of academic failure, severe school attendance and behavior problems, and frequent health problems.
What’s in the past can’t be changed, but futures can be shaped, experts say.
Stanton, the Lincoln Hill principal, said there are real-world tools parents can use. Having routines and rituals, and being predictable as parents help build resiliency in kids, she said.
“Every single parent I’ve ever met in 26 years loves their child and is doing the best they can,” Stanton said. “Every parent has dreams and expectations for their children. They don’t always know how to get them there.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adverse Childhood Experiences is the topic of a free public forum 7-8:30 tonight at the Imagine Children’s Museum, 1502 Wall St., Everett. Sponsored by the Snohomish County Children’s Commission, Snohomish County Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program and other partners, the forum will offer information on how to help children overcome adversity. Parents may bring children ages 3-12. Supervised child care available with RSVP. No RSVP needed for adults to attend. For child care, call 425-388-7200 or email email@example.com