Cracked… But Not Broken: The Prevalence of ACEs in Juvenile Offenders

By: Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT & David Lee Sexton, Jr.

Cracked eggs
Flickr[Cracked Egg by Quinn Dombrowski on August 26, 2008, CC0]
It’s easy for us to get caught up in labels when we hear disturbing news stories about juveniles committing crimes around town and wreaking havoc in schools. Perhaps we label them as “bad eggs” or “menaces to society” and write them off as completely separate from ourselves and from our own children. But, what if we decided to look a little deeper into the lives of these children? We might find that these “bad eggs” may have actually just suffered some really bad cracks.

Dr. Melissa Merrick from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) enlightened us all with her engaging webinar on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Dr. Merrick discussed the clear connection between ACEs and the long-lasting negative effects on health, behaviors, and life potential in adulthood. In an effort to mitigate the negative impact of ACEs on adult health, Dr. Merrick outlined the CDC’s Essentials for Childhood Framework.

Taking a look at the prevalence of ACEs in juvenile offenders and their effects on children, a recent study set out to learn something less widely studied. The researchers assessed 64,329 juvenile offenders in Florida by examining the prevalence of each of the following ACEs: emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, family violence, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, and household member incarceration. Researchers found less difficulty with memory/experience recall when collecting data from the children than the adults in the initial study, as their memories were much more recent.

The findings revealed that ACEs increased the chances of juvenile justice system involvement AND the likelihood of re-offense. Based on the findings of this study, researchers suggest some of the following ways to improve the life circumstances of our children and to prevent criminal behavior:

  • Early identification of and intervention for ACEs
  • Focus on primary prevention rather than secondary
  • Improve public awareness
  • Parenting skills and early childhood brain development information during prenatal period and young child visits
  • Screenings by schools or health providers

The data and research are clear: something needs to be done to create a buffer for our children that can aid in the prevention of ACEs and their negative impacts in both childhood and adulthood. With the continued efforts of the CDC and researchers dedicated to changing the world for our children, perhaps fewer children will be labeled as “bad eggs”.

 

References

Baglivio, M. T., Epps, N., Swartz, K., Huq, M. S., Sheer, A., & Hardt, N. S. (2014). The prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) in the lives of juvenile offenders. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 3(2), 1-23. Retrieved from https://login.ezproxy.library.valdosta.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1681541057?accountid=14800

This post was written by members of the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.

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