The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses the term Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to describe all types of abuse, neglect and other traumatic experiences that occur to youth under the age of 18. ACEs can lead to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death, and as the number of ACEs a person experiences increases, so does the risk of potential negative life outcomes:
- Injury (fractures, traumatic brain injury, burns)
- Mental Health (depression, anxiety, suicide, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
- Maternal Health (unintended pregnancy, pregnancy complications, fetal death)
- Infectious Disease (HIV, sexually transmitted diseases)
- Chronic Disease (cancer, diabetes)
- Risky Behaviors (alcohol and substance misuse, unsafe sex)
However, the presence of ACEs does not necessarily mean an individual will experience poor health outcomes. Positive life experiences and/or protective factors can, however, prevent children from going through adversity and negative life situations. It is imperative to recognize and address the circumstances that put youth at risk in order to make prevention efforts before ACEs are experienced.
Fortunately, Out-of-School Time (OST) programs provide a variety of protective factors that lower a child’s chance of experiencing ACEs. These programs offer children safe places to play outside of school hours, free or affordable facilities for engaging in health and wellness activities, social opportunities and chances to connect youth to their peers.
OST programs also provide offerings that help prepare children for the future. This includes physical activity and fitness programs, art/music and cultural activities, and family engagement programs. According to NRPA’s 2018 Out-of-School Time Report, nine in 10 park and recreation agencies offer OST programs that collectively serve millions of children throughout the United States. Additionally, 57 percent of park and recreation professionals report that children participating in their OST programs come from households and families struggling with major financial challenges. One in six report that there are youth that come to their OST programs hungry.
Additional challenges include poor mental health and violence (31 percent), low academic performance and absenteeism from school (20 percent), and exposure to substance misuse and related abuse at home (13 percent). As a major provider of OST programs, park and recreation agencies are uniquely positioned to offer protective factors against Adverse Childhood Experiences.
NRPA has proudly collaborated with the Afterschool Alliance and Alliance for a Healthier Generation to offer a microlearning opportunity focused on adverse childhood experiences and its impact. Click here to access the webinar.
Lauren Kiefert is a program specialist for NRPA.