Many children in Montana are exposed to adverse events such as economic hardship, domestic violence, and substance abuse. An emerging body of research links the experience of these Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to health and well-being across the life span. Beginning with the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study in the late 1990s, potentially traumatic experiences in childhood have been correlated with a variety of outcomes including chronic disease prevalence, high school graduation rates, incarceration and preterm birth. Unfortunately, Montana has some of the highest ACE scores in the U.S. In a recent national assessment, 52% of children aged 0 to 17 in Montana reported at least one ACE and 17% had three or more ACEs, compared to only 11% nationally.
The link between exposure to ACEs and negative health outcomes is mediated by trauma. Trauma is defined as any lasting physical or emotional effects that an individual experiences as a result of an adverse event. The experience of trauma affects neurobiology, psychological processes, and social attachment in complex ways that can contribute to a range of health concerns across the lifespan. Prolonged exposure to ACEs can also lead to toxic stress and unresolved trauma, key contributors to behavioral problems in childhood and mental health and substance abuse disorders in adulthood. Researchers working in the field of trauma are also exploring protective factors such as resiliency, defined as the ability of an individual, family, or community to cope with adversity and trauma, and adapt to challenges or change. Resiliency can be strengthened to mitigate the effects of trauma in exposed individuals and communities.