Childhood Trauma and the Church

BackToSchoolBlues

I’ve done a fair amount of research over the past few years on Kaiser Permanente’s ACE Study. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.

More than 17,000 Kaiser Permanente employees volunteered to undergo a comprehensive physical examination to provide detailed information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.

Ten categories were determined to be adverse childhood experiences. Five are personal:

  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect

Five are related to other family members:

  • A parent who’s an alcoholic
  • A mother who’s a victim of domestic violence
  • One or no parent in the home (divorce, death, abandonment)
  • A parent who’s incarcerated
  • A family member with mental illness

The ACE Study findings suggest that certain experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States. It is critical to understand how some of the worst health and social problems in our nation can arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences.

More importantly, the ACE Study provides insight about why so many people are physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken in our churches and communities. 

According to Kaiser’s findings, a stunning link exists between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults, as well as social and emotional problems. The study’s researchers came up with an ACE score to explain a person’s risk for chronic disease. Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of trauma you’ve experienced. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk of health and social problems. For instance,

  • For women, the risk of need for antidepressants by the age of 50 increases to 100%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of COPD in adulthood increases by almost 20%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of serious financial problems in adulthood increases by approximately 23%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of of teen pregnancy increases by 40%.
  • With an ACE score of 4 or more, the risk of being raped later in life increases by more than 30%.

My best friend, a woman who has clung to her faith in God since childhood, scores 10 out of 10. Social workers who have met her and know her story call her a “miracle” and consider it beyond remarkable that she has lived into her fifties.

It’s time for the church to recognize the value, dignity, and role of the broken and hurting in our midst.

Jesus came for the lost and hurting, not so we could minister to one another.  Our programming should reflect integrate the needs of families with special needs children, those with mental and physical illness, caregiving ministries, and knowledge of community resources. Our pews are filled with adults, young people, and children, who are suffering from domestic violence, abuse, hunger and neglect, mental and physical illness, caregiver fatigue, pornography addiction, eating disorders, addictions, and many other wounds and are searching for help and hope.

I, for one, am enormously grateful for a church that ministers to needs such as these, and provides counseling and practical support for those in need. Churches also need to equip each of us to step into roles of loving service as God leads.

For practical resources for the hurting, visit MusicfortheSoul.org.

How do you think the church can better meet the needs of those who have been influenced the the categories of the ACE Study?

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