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RFFI recently added two new components to their program design, Trauma (ACEs) and Co-Parenting.  The results of the assessments used to measure these components have shed new light on the affect that both of these factors have on parenting and relational skills.

The assessments RFFI uses to measure trauma include the Adverse Childhood Experience Score, the Trait Hope Scale, Scales of Psychological Well-Being, a Protective Factors Survey, and a Resiliency Score.

“What I have learned so far is that I need to work on myself before I can cope or deal with kids because the stress I have, I don’t want my kids or children to feel left out or not loved just because I have my own problems,” said one participant in RFFI’s motherhood class.

The Adverse Childhood Experience Score (ACEs) is used to measure the amount of trauma one has experienced in their childhood.  There are 10 areas that the ACEs measures:  physical, sexual and verbal abuse; physical and emotional neglect; a family member who is: depressed or diagnosed with a mental illness, addicted to alcohol or another substance, in prison; witnessing a mother being abused and losing a parent to separation, divorce or other reason.

Per the ACES Too High News, The ACE Study revealed five main discoveries:

  • - ACEs are common…nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults have at least one.
  • - They cause adult onset of chronic disease, such as cancer and heart disease, as well as mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence
  • - ACEs don’t occur alone….if you have one, there’s an 87% chance that you have two or more.
  • - The more ACEs you have, the greater the risk for chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. People have an ACE score of 0 to 10. Each type of trauma counts as one, no matter how many times it occurs. You can think of an ACE score as a cholesterol score for childhood trauma. For example, people with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers and seven times more likely to be alcoholic. Having an ACE score of 4 increases the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and suicide by 1200 percent. 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. People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years.
  • - ACEs are responsible for a big chunk of workplace absenteeism, and for costs in health care, emergency response, mental health and criminal justice.  So, the fifth finding from the ACEs Study is that childhood adversity contributes to most of our major chronic health, mental health, economic health and social health issues.

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As indicated in the study, there are a host of factors that result from children who experience traumatic events.  The above results correlate with RFFI’s ACE assessments.  A recent sampling of two RFFI program cohorts found an average of 7 for the ACE score with 10 being the highest.  It is evident that ACEs dramatically impacts parenting and relational skills.  A significant proportion of participants are reporting both sexual and physical abuse in their early childhood years.  Living through trauma is traumatic enough but when children are involved in the equation. We tend to parent how we were parented and therefore, the cycle of ACEs continues. 

“I have learned how stress and trauma affects children at a young age and follows them into adulthood,” one woman in the class said.

It is because of this, that RFFI not only incorporated the ACEs assessment but has added an educational component as well.  Many participants have not heard of ACES and have no idea of how it has impacted them personally nor is there a recognition of how their ACEs has impacted their parenting.  The educational component which is the initial introduction to trauma, brings to light their experiences and how they have been affected by ACEs.  Along with this, the lesson then culminates to identify where they have continued in the cycle of ACEs in their parenting.   

After the education, parents are asked to share their experiences with trauma.  This opens up a myriad of experiences, sharing and creates a bond within the group.  Participants have voiced that this component has answered the question of “why they are the way they are, why they act the way they act, and why they parent the way they parent.” 

“So far I have learned that my childhood affected how I raised my own kids,” said one participant in the motherhood group. “ I need to step it up and stop the cycle of abandonment!”

With this education, there is an awareness, an awakening, and a great desire to change.  It should also be noted that many thought the abuse they suffered as a child was “normal” even though it didn’t feel “normal.”  During this session, parents also build their own Emergency Care and Resiliency Plan.   This plan is a proactive approach when there are “triggers” that may cause one to fall back into trauma behavior.  This is a needed component as it creates a mindset and readies them to be prepared when faced with their “triggers.”

 “These sessions have been informative and educational,” one participant said. “It means a lot to be able to reflect on my past and how I allow it to affect my correct parenting skills.”