When Adversity Is Prevalent, Understanding Is Key

To begin to meet the needs of those we work with, we need to first appreciate how often those in our community have been exposed to trauma. One study that helps us understand the prevalence of adverse experiences is the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, originally conducted in San Diego, California and replicated in nearly every state, including Wisconsin.


Exposure to and difficulty adjusting to adverse experiences is significantly more common than we previously had known. A keen appreciation for the scope of adverse events, especially in children, is a key element to understanding the needs of people who have been exposed to events such as domestic violence and substance abuse, separation/divorce, mental illness, physical and sexual abuse, emotional and physical neglect, and acts of violence.

-Excerpt from Seven Essential Ingredients for implementation of Trauma Informed Care, SaintA.org

Abi Ribecky
Abi Ribecky
Erika Meyer
Erika Meyer

Results from the original study and data from other states indicate a general trend in frequency: that over half of the population has been exposed to at least one type of ACE growing up! This can include dysfunction in the household (mental illness, substance abuse, violence, parental separation or incarceration), abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual) or neglect (physical or emotional.) Further, the study found that the more ACEs a person has experienced, the more likely it is for them to experience negative health outcomes and social problems in adulthood.

Our clients average an ACE score of 3

As part of a Greater Milwaukee Foundation grant, our Child Welfare program was able to conduct some of its own research. A select group of biological parents were sent surveys regarding their ACEs. Results suggest that the population we serve is significantly more likely than the general population to have been exposed to trauma. Though the conclusions are limited due to a low response rate, results showed that these clients averaged an ACE score of 3 or more. Ninety percent of respondents reported at least one ACE, while 47% of respondents reported 4 or more ACEs.

ACEs are not child’s play

90% of our adult clients are still wrestling with the effects of their childhood traumas.

Child Welfare ACE Stats

Learn about interventions at sainta.org/services

Related: ACEs, TIC and 7ei, Oh My!
An informal look at childhood adversity, trauma informed care and the 7 Essential Ingredients.

When working with others, we need to remember that the general population has been exposed to a great deal of adverse experiences and those we work with have even higher exposure rates. This means that we should consider the likelihood that our clients are actively managing the effects of trauma exposure. This understanding may be valuable for two reasons: one, it may give us insight for the source of maladaptive behaviors; and two, it can also lead to the discovery of resilient skills and qualities that are important to the goal of successful healing.

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One Response to When Adversity Is Prevalent, Understanding Is Key

  1. Pingback: Working Alongside Social Workers – Michelle Sieg

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