Exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – sometimes referred to as childhood trauma – can be a life changer for an employee. This is because of the connection between exposure to ACEs and toxic stress.
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.
Understanding the ACEs | Toxic Stress Connection
To better understand why the above long list of physical, emotional, and behavioral health conditions is possible as a result of exposure to ACEs is to understand the ACEs / toxic stress connection. For this, I suggest employees check out the following resources:
- Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University > Toxic Stress
- Dr. Nadine Burke Harris > Ted Talk > “How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime“
- American Academy of Pediatrics > ACEs and Toxic Stress
Helping Employees Screen for ACEs | Adverse Childhood Experiences
The importance for helping employees screen for ACEs is to help employees identify the possible “real” cause(s) of their physical or emotional ailments and/or unhealthy behaviors, such as substance misuse (the long list shown above). Once this is understood, employees can then take more effective approaches to healing those underlying cause(s), which in turn can help them heal/change their physical or emotional ailments and/or unhealthy behaviors.
To screen for ACEs, I suggest employees visit ACEs Too High > Got Your ACEs Score? Not only can employees screen for their possible ACEs using the 10 question survey provided, but they can also interpret their results.[Note: I’ve italicized and underlined employees above to emphasize employers should only provide the information to their employee and leave it to employees to decide whether they screen for their ACEs (or not) and to decide what (if anything) they want to do about it. This article is NOT intended to put employers in the position of screening employees for ACEs – that would be beyond an employer’s purview.]
As for helping employees understand how to recover from adverse childhood experiences as an adult, the overall approach involves taking steps to heal/rewire their brains of the toxic stress impacts caused by ACEs. This healing will then help with their overall physical, emotional and behavioral health, as well. Unfortunately, to cover the details of this is a far more complicated than this article space allows, so please contact me for further information and resources.