A group of concerned educators, elected officials and health care workers met last week at City Hall to discuss working together to combat adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in the community. Adverse childhood experiences are traumatic events occurring before age 18. ACEs include all types of abuse and neglect as well as parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence. The more ACEs experienced, the greater the risk for these outcomes.
According to a federal report, a landmark study in the 1990s found a significant relationship between the number of ACEs a person experienced and a variety of negative outcomes in adulthood, including poor physical and mental health, substance abuse, and risky behaviors. By definition, children in the child welfare system have suffered at least one ACE. Recent studies have shown that, in comparison to the general population, these children are far more likely to have experienced at least four ACEs.
In attendance at the meeting was 49th District Representative Gail Armstrong and Lt. Governor Howie Morales, who pointed out in an interview after the meeting that ACEs is a pressing issue, “not just in Socorro County or in the state, but across the country.”
He said adverse childhood experiences doesn’t impact one particular segment of the population.
“It impacts all the population. We have to recognize what it is, a true childhood crisis,” Morales said. “When you look and see those that have had Adverse Childhood Effects, they are 400 percent more likely to develop depression, and over 120 percent are more likely commit suicide.”
Morales cited results of the 1966 Coleman Report commissioned by the U.S. Congress, which identified out-of-school factors as impacting student achievement.
“Those findings are still relevant today,” he said. “Specifically, the attitudes of parents and caregivers at home and peers at school of students toward education. We have a real problem that we’re facing and must address. It has an effect on education, our economy, our quality of life in the state.”
Rick Bailey, President of Northern New Mexico College in Espanola spoke about the Anna, Age Eight Institute, a program founded by the school. The institute seeks to provide organizational and resource support to pre-existing agencies in the County.
The institute points out that far from just a “private family problem,” adverse childhood experiences can lead to substance misuse and mental health challenges that diminish learning and work performance – impacting local economies.
According to Bailey, the Institute provides the foundation for strengthening the capacity of every county in the state to ensure safe childhoods, successful students, productive employees, healthy families and thriving economies.
“Our public education system faces huge expectations and significant challenges with students’ futures in the balance We support a collaborative process of innovation guided by continuous quality improvement and supported by state-of-the-art technology.”
Morales said legislative funding was appropriated for Dona Ana, Rio Arriba and Socorro counties.