This research explores the effect of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have on youth, trauma-informed practices, and healing-centered engagement, and the role out-of-school time plays in supporting children who are dealing with ACEs.
ACEs are defined by Child Trends as "potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. These experiences range from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to parental divorce or the incarceration of a parent or guardian."
The impact of ACEs on the development of children and youth become a growing concern in recent years. Though research links social determinants such as poverty and racism as potential contributing factors, ACEs can influence the lives of children from any culture or socio-economic background.
The Effect of ACEs on School-Age Children
ACEs include physical abuse and neglect; sexual abuse; emotional abuse and neglect; intimate partner violence, substance abuse, mental illness and violent treatment of a mother within a household; parental separation or divorce; and an incarcerated household member.
School-age children experience gradual, yet complex development during both early and middle childhood. Though brain development is robust during this time, coping with and/or surviving trauma or unsettling, scary experiences with a brain not yet capable of interpreting, processing, and understanding these experiences can result in poor decisions, short attention span, and lack of communication.
Research asserts that, when affected by trauma, the school-age child's brain adapts in ways to support its survival. Adaptations can manifest as behavior problems and are characterized by flight, fight, or freeze—the stress response framework.
Flight: Withdrawal, escaping, running away, self-isolation, avoidance.
Fight: Hyperactivity, verbal aggression, oppositional behavior, limit-testing, physical aggression, "bouncing off the walls."
Freeze: Subdued demeanor, watchfulness, looking dazed, daydreaming, forgetfulness, shutting down emotionally.
Trauma-Informed Practices and Healing-Centered Engagement
Trauma-informed practices are therapies focused on promoting healing and reducing re-traumatization. These practices, including therapy and counseling, recognize the individual's traumatic experience and regard his or her behaviors as symptoms of the trauma. Healing-centered engagement goes beyond trauma-informed practices to separate individuals from their trauma, by focusing on what is right with them and the healthy assets they possess.
Both trauma-informed practices and healing-centered engagement aim for resilience as an end result, in addition to providing support for healing, recovery, and fostering hope—a vital component when recovering from trauma. Out-of-school time (OST) programs, as well as school-based programs and other supports, can foster a youth's resiliency by:
- Building the individual's capacity and reasonable expectations.
- Building the individual's positive self-image.
- Building problem-solving and communication skills.
- Management of strong feelings and impulses.
The Role of Out-of-School Time
OST programs are able to promote positive youth development and protect school-age children, in large part due to structured activities and high-quality interactions, both adult-to-youth and youth-to-youth. OST programs can assist and enhance the lives of children who are dealing with ACEs by providing support in these areas:
Social and Emotional Development: Programs that produce positive effects have at least one element of social and emotional-focused programming and/or have professional development for staff related to social and emotional skills.
Safe Zones: OST programs can provide a safe-haven, supervised time, instruction, and promotion of new skills, and offer opportunities for positive adult interaction and peer interaction.
Family Engagement: OST programs that work to create an interconnectedness of supports for all program participants, inclusive of the family, acknowledge that engagement of the family unit is crucial to the success of the youth participant.
Academics: Participants receive academic instruction for remediation, enrichment, or enhancement purposes within an afterschool or summer learning program environment.