Participants in last month’s “Breaking the Cradle to Prison Pipeline” forum in Mays Landing described some common ways kids’ lives go wrong, such as being abused or being in families with serious problems.
That stresses children, making it difficult for them to behave, focus on learning and avoid making bad choices, said educators, counselors and law enforcers at the discussion, organized by Atlantic City Jack and Jill. Instead of recognizing the causes of children’s problems, institutions tend to deal with the effects, which often just moves them along that pipeline to a failed life.
Addressing these kinds of social problems, often associated with poverty, is discouragingly complex and difficult. Major efforts often show few measurable results. The public is tempted to collectively sigh and throw up its hands.
This time might be different. A nationwide movement to recognize and address Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, has taken root and is spreading. A branch of it, the Cape Regional Wellness Alliance, was announced about a week after the forum.
The ACES movement began in the late 1990s as a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a Kaiser Permanente clinic in San Diego.
They launched a study to see how much childhood maltreatment and household dysfunction contribute to health problems later in children’s lives. The results were shocking. Adverse experiences were common and resulted in increased risks for major chronic diseases and behaviors such as smoking, drug use, drinking and promiscuity.
The health sector, in particular the pediatric medical community, developed the approach further and in October inaugurated an annual nationwide assessment of the prevalence of ACEs, which will also make progress measurable.
Nationally, 46 percent of U.S. youth have had at least one adverse experience and 22 percent have had two or more. These include being in a family often struggling to get by on its income; often being treated or judged unfairly due to race or ethnicity; having a parent or guardian die, go to jail or divorce; suffering or seeing violence at home or in the neighborhood; and living with someone mentally ill or with an alcohol or drug problem.
New Jersey fared better, with 41 percent of kids with at least a single ACE and 18 percent with two or more. A unit of the Johns Hopkins public health school produced the findings from data gathered by the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health by the Census Bureau.
The Cape alliance was formed by the Cape Regional Wellness System through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which also collaborates with and supports the ACEs work at Johns Hopkins.
The alliance will develop and implement strategies for reducing the impact of adverse experiences on children, focusing on those in Lower and Middle townships, Wildwood and Woodbine.
The ACEs movement seems soundly based and very promising. Strategies to mitigate adverse experiences and make children more resilient include supporting family routines like eating meals together, reading to children, limiting screen time and not using tobacco at home.
Helpful policies include safer and affordable housing and healthy food, community violence prevention and better access to quality child care and early education.
We hope to see ACEs-related initiatives soon in Atlantic and Cumberland counties, which have many children who would benefit.