NEWARK, N.J. (Jul. 30, 2019) – A new report released today details the challenges New Jersey faces in addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and sets forth opportunities and actions for a coordinated statewide response to mitigate their lasting effects on children’s health and well-being.
ACEs are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse, neglect, domestic violence, household mental illness, household substance misuse, and parental separation or divorce. More than 4 out of 10 children in New Jersey have experienced at least one ACE, according to the report’s analysis of the 2016-2017 National Survey of Children’s Health, with nearly half of those children experiencing multiple ACEs. Research has found that children of color, those from low-income backgrounds, LGBTQ youth, and foster children, are at a higher risk of exposure to multiple ACEs.
Without the presence of a positive buffer, such as a nurturing parent or caregiver, ACEs can lead to a toxic stress response in children over time. Toxic stress can affect brain architecture and chemistry and have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being in childhood and later in life. Children who experience toxic stress are at an increased risk of developing depression, obesity, substance use problems, and chronic illnesses like heart and lung disease and cancer. Furthermore, there is a clear intergenerational effect of trauma, because parents who experience toxic stress are more likely to have children who experience toxic stress.
The report, Adverse Childhood Experiences: Opportunities to Prevent, Protect Against, and Heal from the Effects of ACEs in New Jersey, was co-authored by the New Jersey Funders ACEs Collaborative and the consulting firm FSG. The Collaborative includes the Burke Foundation, The Nicholson Foundation, and the Turrell Fund. The report found that there are significant challenges to successfully addressing ACEs in New Jersey:
· Relative to other states, New Jersey has fewer comprehensive data-collection efforts to assess the burden of ACEs. This lack of awareness and understanding about the issue is a barrier to incorporating the latest evidence on brain science and trauma into the work of practitioners who serve children and families.
· Although New Jersey has a strong cadre of professionals and coalitions that are working to address childhood trauma, efforts are often siloed in individual sectors, resulting in missed opportunities for the impact of coordinated action.
“We know from our work in child welfare that childhood adversity can contribute to social, emotional and behavioral challenges, generationally,” said Christine Norbut Beyer, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and a partner in working to reduce ACEs in the state’s at-risk residents. “Families need the public and private sectors to come together with strategies that promote healing and resilience through prevention and post-crisis clinical and non-clinical services. We can break the generational cycle of trauma by introducing positive experiences that counter - and ultimately remediate - the adverse events, helping New Jersey residents to be safe, healthy and connected.”
Last year, the Burke Foundation and The Nicholson Foundation pledged two million dollars to programs addressing ACEs. This report serves as a starting point for a statewide discussion about ACEs. A series of meetings have been scheduled by the foundations to gather key cross-sector stakeholders to develop, refine, and finalize a set of recommendations to inform the development of an ACEs Action Plan for New Jersey.
“This report should serve as a wake-up call for New Jersey,” said Dr. Arturo Brito, Executive Director of The Nicholson Foundation. “As a pediatrician, I have seen first-hand the long-term, devastating effects of childhood trauma. By taking action to protect children from adversity’s most damaging harms, we can build a brighter future for our children, our communities, and our state’s economy.”
Despite the challenges, many in New Jersey are already working individually and collectively on ACEs in rural, suburban, and urban areas.
Drawing from interviews with practitioners and key stakeholders from New Jersey and examples from other states, the report also highlights five major opportunities for action in the state:
1. Supporting parents and caregivers
2. Providing training and professional development in trauma-informed care
3. Promoting community awareness of ACEs
4. Advancing policies and practices that help children and families thrive
5. Collecting, analyzing, and sharing data and research
“This report has clearly linked childhood adversity as the root cause of many short- and long-term health challenges,” said James Burke, President of the Burke Foundation. “We believe this work presents a real, urgent opportunity to make changes in the ways our systems work for families and children, and to develop a statewide coordinated response.”
ABOUT THE NEW JERSEY FUNDERS ACES COLLABORATIVE
The Burke Foundation, The Nicholson Foundation, and the Turrell Fund share deep roots in New Jersey and a commitment to building a brighter future for our state by empowering brighter futures for our children. Together, the three foundations provide grants of $10-12 million a year to support vulnerable children and families. The foundations work together to make collective investments that strengthen the ability of New Jersey’s early care and education systems to improve outcomes for the youngest children.