The Foundation: 003

Adverse Childhood Experiences

ICYMI: The Foundation: 002

Why trauma?
I don't have a great answer. Not for lack of effort. I'm split on covering violence most days. Sometimes it feels like a compulsion, something I don't have control over (I know that sounds silly but it ... it's how it feels. Like I need to be doing this. I know that's not how it is, but that's how it feels.)

I believe in storytelling and the value in hearing from people who are hurting. I want to understand about the unsettling feeling we have when watching or being close to someone in pain, and what happens when the pain subsides. Why we all feel that but it hasn’t ever seemed to drive policy in any real way. Knowing kids suffer, conceptualizing it, unable to do anything about it.

We don’t need science to tell us kids shouldn’t have to see dead bodies or grieving relatives at a murder, shouldn’t have to to grieve young cousins or uncles, to learn to live after getting shot. There’s something within us that makes us want to shelter kids from those experiences.

But there is a body of research that shows what happens when kids have a lot of adversity or trauma in their childhoods. I want to use that to inform my work. So it’s not just whatever it is in my gut that says, write about kids or those closest to them.

I'd be lying if I said - I believe in the work so much that I have this unfailing dedication. I know I’m not unique among reporters in feeling torn about this.

Anyway. The way I've been explaining the “why” here - it’s childhood trauma is a largely undressed foundational rot in the city of Chicago that is not being taken seriously by anyone with the power or clout to move policy on that front.

The evidence is the body count, year after year, decade after decade really. (It's not nearly as simple as - it all starts at home - though research papers have acknowledged that to some degree - but, more later).

Stress is really bad for you. It's been stressful reading about how bad stress can be for you, then I get stressed out that I'm stressed out. Bad news. We haven't even gone much into trauma lately, not the type of acute trauma of a gunshot wound anyway. Just early life stress. (Trauma later, I promise.)

The ACEs study in 1998 (Adverse Childhood Experiences) established a foundation of understanding - it turns out, there's a pretty clear line between childhood adversity (not even necessarily trauma) and adverse outcomes later in life. This has been known for twenty years. (You can get the gist of it from the first page). I don't have a good reason for why this hasn't informed more of my work. I wish it had been apart of some course I could have taken before taking the job or some sort of training materials. (Here’s the survey. It’s short.)

The study was far from perfect - its participants were near 80% white (on a survey where one of the questions asked whether a parent was incarcerated), drawn from a single geographic area, and didn't ask about community violence.

But it’s an incredible starting point. Some excerpts:

Neurological development during early childhood is the foundation on which experiences, positive or negative, are organized and processed. Home and family environments and the characteristics of the parents and persons to whom children are exposed are powerful determinants of emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social and physiologic functioning later in life.

Because (adverse childhood experiences) rarely occur in isolation, the cumulative effect of multiple ACEs likely has an even more powerful negative effect on a young child’s developing brain via repeated and/or chronic activation of the stress response.

Abuse and neglect in childhood were shown to be associated with poor self-esteem, conflicted relationships, and severe life events in adulthood, in turn, acting as risk factors for depression and other adverse health consequences.

At the same time, for a different class, we read “Children Who See Too Much.” The author worked with children who had witnessed violence, very often domestic violence, at the Child Witness to Violence Project in Boston. It’s a fast read, could do it in a weekend, and offers experiential insight into the difficulties kids face and some of the ways clinicians can serve as a course correction.

It’s dark at times, but. Worth reading.

Outside reading

The Fighters - CJ Chivers (Slow and steady. Lots of school reading.)

Neighborhood stuff
We went to a Red Sox game - bought a nice clean fitted hat and a hoodie. I didn't see very many other Red Sox fitted hats, everyone's got an old weathered hat that looks like it's been sitting on a dashboard by the ocean for fifteen years, which, I don't understand.

I asked a vendor for a Polish sausage with grilled onions and he said, Italian? No, Polish, I said. "Are you kidding me? We'd go outta business. Italian."

Red Sox won, walk-off bloop single, over the Astros. (Their fans travel well.)

About the photo:
This is the ACEs pyramid. I'm going to print it out and put it in a couple places in the newsroom when I get back, so anyone who looks at it is reminded the of the potentially poor outcomes for kids who face frequent adversity. My hope is that we may bring this frame of reference to bear when discussing any issue facing the city - school closures, violence, food insecurity, etc.

Hopefully this fosters some empathy. We were all kids, after all.