The debate over whether to allow students to return to school is ever present. However, not much has been said about how children are coping with the traumatic effects of this pandemic and what we, as a society, are doing to help them deal with it.
According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is causing trauma in ways in which we are not fully aware. Increased levels of anxiety, depression, and alcohol and drug misuse are a common theme across the country. Families who live in lower income neighborhoods have been hit the hardest and are especially feeling fear, stress, and uncertainty about their future. This type of trauma is causing toxic stress in adults nationwide and in our local communities and it is being transferred to our children every day.
Children today are essentially feeling the toxic stress of a different type of war and a new adversary that perhaps is even more detrimental than the virus itself. Since governors across the country forced schools to shut down and issued stay-at-home orders, children were confined to their homes. While it seems they would be safer, for many children, especially those living in poverty, this could not be further from the truth.
During times of crisis, stress levels in families tend to rise, making children more susceptible to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as child abuse and domestic violence.
What specifically are ACEs? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood before the age of 18. Among these are experiences of violence, abuse, or neglect. ACEs can cause other problems and disruptions in life such as learning disabilities and alcohol and drug misuse, which can bring chronic disease or serious health complications later in life, including early death.
The CDC reports that ACEs are common. About 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported that they had experienced at least one type of ACEs, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more ACEs. Although it is too early to know the exact numbers, it is safe to say that these numbers will only go up because of the pandemic.
One of the most profound findings of the research on ACEs is that preventing them has the potential to save millions of lives. For example, up to 1.9 million cases of heart disease and 21 million cases of depression could have potentially been avoided by preventing ACEs, according to the CDC.
Although it is disheartening to hear about the number of ACEs reported each year, especially with the potential for increased numbers during COVID-19, the good news is that ACEs can be prevented or countered. More experts are beginning to agree that countering those adverse childhood experiences with positive ones, known as protective factors, is proving to be effective.
In other words, perhaps there is no stronger cure for an adverse childhood experience than a positive childhood experience provided by a caretaker or caring, nurturing adult. More than ever, families, schools, faith-based groups, and community-based organizations need to be aware of this trauma-informed approach. Community advocates need to ensure policies are passed that have impact at community and societal levels, as well as individual and relationship levels.
Brenda Simmons began her career at IPS in 2003 as a community organizer in San Diego County. She was promoted multiple times before she was elevated to CEO/President in April 2019. She has a broad range of experience working in very conservative rural and frontier communities in Montana, ultra-progressive communities including Los Angeles and West Hollywood, and everything in between. Brenda has been involved in projects ranging in focus from substance abuse prevention to community revitalization to child-sex trafficking. As CEO, Brenda oversees more than a dozen IPS projects in Southern California.