EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) offer a unique opportunity to include resources that can help employees screen for ACEs. Why might this be important?
As I wrote in my post, Screening for Adverse Childhood Experiences | ACEs Can be Good for Business, employees experiencing ACE’s-related toxic stress impacts can impose staggering costs to the workplace related to poor work performance, absenteeism, health care, and safety risks. More importantly, the very health and quality of their lives is at stake.
Helping employees understand and screen for Adverse Childhood Experiences is profoundly important to an employee’s overall well-being, which, in turn, can be good for a company or agency’s bottom line.
About Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
The CDC-Kaiser ACE Study involved 17,000 Kaiser members who completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences and current health status and behaviors. Of note – the study participates were mostly white, middle- to upper-middle class; college educated; with jobs and great health care – so not what we typically associate with adverse childhood experiences.
The ACE Study measured:
- five types of abuse and neglect: physical, verbal and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; and
- five types of family dysfunction: a family member who is abusing alcohol or other drugs or has a mental illness; witnessing a mother being abused; or losing a parent to separation or divorce.
The results were shocking:
- 67 percent (2 out of 3 people) of the study population had at least one ACE
- 13 percent (1 out of 8 people) had four or more ACEs.
According to the CDC – Kaiser ACE Study > Major Findings,
As the number of ACEs increases so does the risk for the following*:
- Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Fetal death
- Health-related quality of life
- Illicit drug use
- Ischemic heart disease
- Liver disease
- Poor work performance
- Financial stress
- Risk for intimate partner violence
- Multiple sexual partners
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Suicide attempts
- Unintended pregnancies
- Early initiation of smoking
- Early initiation of sexual activity
- Adolescent pregnancy
- Risk for sexual violence
- Poor academic achievement
*This list is not exhaustive. For more outcomes see selected journal publications.
EAP Raising Awareness About Screening for ACEs
To help EAP Program Managers better understand what screening for ACEs is all about, I am sharing three examples. Unfortunately, not all three are company or EAP specific. Nonetheless, they share a great deal about how thinking outside the box on this concept can be highly effective.
From the first example, “Pueblo, CO, clinic rewrites the book on primary medical care by asking patients about their childhood adversity,” I share Leslie Dempsey’s quote:
“Honestly,” recalls Dempsey, who oversees the medical school residents who work in the clinic, “my first thought when I learned that we were doing to do this was: ‘Heaven forbid, we’re opening up a can of worms. We’re not trained to do this as physicians. I already have to deal with the original problem that brought a patient here. Now you want me to probe for other traumatic experiences?’
“I envisioned patients breaking down and being in my office for two hours, not 20 minutes. It’s not that I didn’t think it was important, but I didn’t see how we could handle it.
“It didn’t turn out like that at all,” she says.
“The first day we integrated this into the well child clinic, we got several positive responses. I don’t mean responses where we had to get behavioral health involved. These were responses from the patients. They said that they were grateful that somebody finally asked them and cared and linked it with their health. Some were truly stunned. ‘Nobody ever told me this,’ they said. ‘You explained my life. I’m so glad that you asked.’
“I guess I was surprised….pleased. The patients surprised me that it wasn’t about the traumatic memory itself, it was the acknowledgement of what they been through and how their childhood experiences could be related to their health.”
From the second example, “To prevent childhood trauma, pediatricians screen children and their parents…and sometimes, just parents…for childhood trauma (aka ACEs),” I share what the article’s author, Jane Ellen Stevens, writes,
The pediatricians don’t ask the parents how their ACEs are affecting their parenting, because the clinic does not yet have a therapist on site, although it’s planning on adding one. They just focus on how their childhood trauma is affecting them at this point in their lives. If it’s an issue, they advise talking with a counselor. Pettersen says that the overwhelming response from parents has been: “Thank you so much for asking about these things. It’s really a load off my mind. I feel like I can come to you if I need help.”
With this last example, “Business leaders in the ACEs science and resilience movement: A different kind of bottom line,” I share two quotes from author, Annde Hochman,
The owner of the biggest construction firm in Walla Walla, Washington, sat through a seminar that framed adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) science in ways a business person could understand: how childhood trauma could translate into low productivity, high turnover, sinking morale and rising health care costs.
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Roger Bairstow, Broetje’s director of human resources and corporate responsibility, says ACEs science “has given us another tool and better understanding” of what is required to promote individual, family, company, and community health.
“Science is now confirming what we always knew,” says Broetje. “You know something’s wrong; you can see it when people start to shut down, when they don’t show up, or when they become aggressive. We ask, ‘What happened? How can we help?’”
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And in Helena, the owner of two McDonald’s franchises who wants to bring trauma-informed approaches to her managers recently invited leaders from Elevate Montana, a statewide ACEs initiative, to conduct a four-hour ACE-and-resilience training.
Todd Garrison, executive director of ChildWise Institute, which manages Elevate Montana, says his background in corporate finance helps him explain to business people why they should care about their workers’ personal struggles. Business leaders understand the conventional idea of “return on investment” in the form of reduced absenteeism, job-related injuries and health care costs, Garrison says. “But it’s when we talk to them about the other ROI—return on impact—that’s when we get their ear. We talk about impacting their staff’s personal growth, their health and their job satisfaction…all of which contribute to a healthier and more profitable business.