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How this study helps to identify children suffering trauma so they can get help

Posted at 12:17 PM, May 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 12:17:54-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Following almost every tragedy, some questions people ask are how did this happen, why did this happen, and could this have been prevented?

One fear is that when a child endures trauma, it could lead to violent tendencies later in life, spokespeople for the Henrico CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) said.

One way CASA analyzes children's trauma is through the ACE study. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences.

The study looks at 10 types of childhood trauma, including parental suicide, physical abuse, and bullying, and how those can affect a child all the way into adulthood.

"Those can be health related, or they can be negative behaviors that we see, unfortunately, in some of these violent encounters and shooting incidences across the country," Kristin Blalock, community engagement coordinator for Henrico CASA explained.

Blalock noted the number of these adverse experiences that child has had, on a scale of 1 to 10, the more likely it is they will have negative outcomes.

For example, people with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more marriages, more broken bones, more drug prescriptions, more depression, and more autoimmune diseases.

A 2019 Los Angeles Times article looked at every mass shooting since 1966 and found the vast majority of mass shooters experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.

Blalock does not want to use the study to make an excuse for these shooters' actions, but said there are things we can do as a community to help kids and prevent them from turning to violence.

"It really comes down to asking better questions," she said. "I would say there are two types of questioning that we could do. One would be more formal questioning. There are a lot of screening tools out there. The CDC has them on their site. These screening tools are things that could be used by educators and pediatricians, coaches, anyone really, to help identify children who have had these traumatic experiences or adverse childhood experiences. And when you identify them, you can intervene earlier to make sure they have the support they need."

Even if a child has experienced five or more of those childhood traumas included in the ACE study, Blalock said that doesn't mean they will automatically be a more violent person, and there is a major action that can help negate that trauma.

"The studies show that one caring or stable adult in your life can actually buffer the traumatic experience," said Blalock. "And actually, you can have many traumatic experiences, but that one caring adult changes the trajectory or the outcome from those traumatic experiences. So if we can be that caring adult to someone, if we can ask good questions, let the kids voice what they've seen, what they've heard, what they felt and let them process with someone in a way that's healing and hopeful for the future, it makes all the difference."

Henrico CASA volunteers often serve as that one person in a child’s life who can help reduce that trauma and provide some stability.

The nonprofit is always looking for volunteers.

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