WHAT ARE ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACEs) AND HOW DO THEY IMPACT PEOPLE?
 

Never before has the subject of mental health and trauma been so important for us to understand. 21st century churches, charities, and in fact anywhere that welcomes the public needs to be committed to understanding how trauma affects those around us.

"21st century churches, charities, and in fact anywhere that welcomes the public needs to be committed to understanding how trauma affects those around us."

Whether you are a children’s worker, youth worker or are in any way involved in a church body, I invite you to think about how you can best welcome the children, young people, families and those who have experienced the pain of early trauma. Creating an environment that feels safe is paramount so that they are able to fully receive the love of our Father God.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can result in developmental trauma and include such things as:

  • Parental drug use

  • Sexual abuse

  • Emotional or physical neglect 

  • Poor parental attunement (this is where parents consistently find themselves unable to recognise what their child needs and attend to that need)

  • Parent with chronic illness, physical or psychological

  • Parental death

  • Parental separation

  • Parent in prison

Recent research about ACES tells us that people who have experienced ACES are prone to:

  • Chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Substance abuse

  • Lower educational and occupational opportunities

Early traumatic experiences in life impact so many aspects of a young person’s life as well as their family life. They can be affected at every level of body, mind and spirit. Trauma can make people go into “survival mode” and their bodies move into a state of high alert or retreat and possibly shut down. If these people don’t feel safe inside their bodies they won’t be able to face the challenges that are ahead, let alone be able to open up to others and encounter Jesus in our faith environments.

 

 

"If these people don’t feel safe inside their bodies they won’t be able to face the challenges that are ahead, let alone be able to open up to others and encounter Jesus in our faith environments."


 

In your children’s or youth ministry you might be experiencing the fallout from past trauma in the form of challenging, unpredictable behaviours. Children young people and adults may experience sensory overload or struggle to integrate in your setting particularly where there are a lot of sensory demands. Church environments can be very sensory 
demanding. They can also feel very exposing to someone who is new to it and has experienced adversity.

"Church environments can be very sensory demanding. They can also feel very exposing to someone who is new to it and has experienced adversity."

ACEs research has shown that it is important to support people in building resilience. There are three main areas in which we can do this and these are to:

  • Reduce the source of toxic stress

  • Help build core life skills

  • Provide buffering key relationships


Churches and ministries are often great at providing these things but: What if we worked on these areas to really ensure that we put in place good practice and most especially that we don’t add to people's trauma?

By Ruth Stephens | 8th March 2021

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