Youth Awareness in November: Understanding the Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
November is National Homeless Youth Awareness and National Runaway Youth Prevention Month. Congress established guidelines for raising awareness under the Family and Youth Services Bureau, and first passed the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act in 1974. It is an established fact that the combination of decisions and experiences during one’s youth impacts the outcome of one’s life. It may take years to peel back the layers of an individual’s existence, but that one moment could trigger a memory or a realization as to why and how a person rears their children, and how they engage with others. Of course, having basic needs such as stable shelter, food, income, healthcare, and transportation helps significantly. Our unique experiences, whether good or bad, affect our decisions and impact our children. If we are not careful, we can continue the cycle, and expose our own children to Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Adverse Childhood Experiences, also known as ACEs, are categorized as the traumatic experiences an individual may experience between the ages of 0-17.
These may include, but are not limited to, experiencing homelessness, witnessing suicide, exposure to violence, neglect or abuse, exposure to close family members with substance abuse, parental separation due to a parent being incarcerated, or complications from a parent who has certain types of mental illness. It is a very delicate matter; however, when youth are put in constant survival mode, the heavy burden takes a toll on the overall development of these impacted individuals. Youth who have dealt with ACEs equate to millions of adults facing heart disease and depression as a result of this trauma.
Because November’s focus on at-risk youth (including youth vulnerable to human trafficking) brings this issue to the attention on a national level, citizens everywhere are made aware of the many services made available by The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. This Act aims to connect youth with services, shelter, and access to education. The reauthorized legislation expands protections to youth vulnerable to human trafficking. Also, students who do not complete high school are at a higher risk of becoming unhoused than their peers who do. According to the California Department of Education, there were over 100,000 unhoused youth as of the 2020-21 academic enrollment data.
According to federal data, over 600,000 youth were serviced in the foster care system, with over 400,000 remaining in the system.
In California, there are about 60,000 youth in the system, and many are never reunited with their families because the institution of foster care requires parents to pay for their child’s stay in the system. Due to this practice, some families are never able to catch up to the financial requirements needed to get their children back; however, legislation was passed to address the economic challenges parents face when dealing with the Child Welfare Agencies under AB 1686 (Bryan).
Some youth in the foster care system who are never reunited with their parents or family members experience unstable foster home conditions.
Please note that many foster families do a fantastic job taking care of youth in the foster care system; however, it is not the case for everyone. One of the most horrific stories I read was A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown https://cupcakebrown.com/, and it is only suggested for mature audiences due to the nature of the content of the book. Brown shares her torturous life journey of being unprotected and passed around in the foster care system. Despite the heinous neglect and abuse she faced, Brown still experienced many accomplishments, including attending law school.
Every young person deserves to be in a safe and loving environment to fully develop emotionally and mentally, enabling them to successfully navigate their life and future.
Without these basic needs being met, failure and financial instability are more likely to occur. Chronic stress can also lead to long-term illness and autoimmune disorders.
This issue of chronic stress caused by situations such as experiencing homelessness, does not have a simple fix; however, awareness is the first step, and considering how to make a difference is a start. To learn more about ACEs and additional resources, please visit the following sites: