Child welfare is definitely one of those professions filled with acronyms. OHC for out-of-home care, TFC for treatment foster care and my favorite, WiSACWIS (Wisconsin Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System.) Say that five times fast.
Having been here for only about 6 months, there’s still a lot to learn. However, there are a handful of acronyms I’ve gotten to know very well. That’s because they are what this agency is made of.
ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences
The term ACEs was coined about 20 years ago when two researchers, Drs. Anda and Felitti, of the CDC and Kaiser Permanente respectively, started studying the impact of toxic stress on kids. They administered a first-of-its-kind survey to 17,000 adults to inquire about the abuse, neglect and household dysfunction they experienced during childhood.
There are 10 specific ACEs and the survey scoring system is simple – one point for every adversity:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Witnessing violence
- Parent with drug/alcohol addiction
- Family member with mental illness
- One or more parent incarcerated
Almost three-quarters (67%) of respondents reported having an ACE score of at least one. About 25% said they had three ACEs or more. When SaintA studied its young adult clients who had aged out of foster care, we found that 65% had five or more ACEs. That’s a lot of adversity to overcome. Not only that, but the higher the number of ACEs, the higher the risk for physical, emotional and social consequences, such as heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, depression, suicide, and risky sexual behaviors, just to name a few.
TIC stands for Trauma Informed Care
Trauma Informed Care (TIC) is the way we approach our work – or more accurately, how we approach the people we work with. Being trauma informed (or trauma sensitive) means that we acknowledge ACEs and all the really yucky long-term aforementioned physical/emotional/social effects on kids. And parents. And truthfully, probably generations of family members before them.
If you’re wondering how childhood experiences can have such far-reaching consequences, the short answer is: Neurobiology. Dr. Bruce Perry of the ChildTrauma Academy is our favorite expert on that.
And this is where things get really interesting because ACEs aren’t just one-and-done experiences. They lead to toxic, ongoing stress; the kind of stress that affects the developing brain in some very structural ways. Here’s a video that explains it better than I ever could. The nice people at the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative said we could share it with you.
In shorthand, this is not a case of a young people learning bad habits from adults in their lives; this is a case of interrupted brain development. So instead of looking at a child who is disruptive or “naughty” in the classroom, for example, and asking “What’s wrong with you?” trauma informed care asks, “What happened to you? And what can I do to help?”
7ei are the Seven Essential Ingredients of Trauma Informed Care
Approaching child welfare and family services through this lens takes empathy, of course, but more than that, it takes skill. SaintA has always been inspired to not just follow the best practices of caring for our kids and families, but to set the bar higher. From that desire to do better, came the Seven Essential Ingredients, known around here as 7ei. With brain science in mind, SaintA zeroed in on what we found to be the most essential elements of trauma informed care. You can read the Seven Essential Ingredients here. And, I hope you’ll watch this blog for posts from SaintA staff, explaining what 7ei means for them and their clients.
In the meantime, you might enjoy these videos of our young adult clients talking about the importance of – and the great need for – foster parents.
Checkout the Entire 7ei Blog Series:
- When Adversity is Prevalent, Understanding is Key
- What Happens to Us, and When It Happens, Matters
- A Perspective Shift From the Inside Out
- Regulating the Brain, From the Stem Up
- The Power of Relationship
- Seeing Ourselves as a “Reason to Be”
- What Caregiver Capacity Means to Me
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