A rising cause for concern in communities across the country is the impact of adverse childhood experiences and trauma on youth mental and behavioral health outcomes.

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?

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 include things like exposure to substance use in the home, domestic violence, racism or divorce, which cause toxic stress and can lead to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death. 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 prevent children from going through adversity and experiencing negative life situations.

Out-of-School Time programs, including formal and informal mentoring 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.

What is Trauma Informed Care?

Trauma-Informed Care is an important concept to consider when working in Out-of-School Time settings. The Buffalo Center for Social Research defines Trauma-Informed Care as an approach that assumes an individual is more likely than not to have a history of trauma. It recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role trauma may play in an individual’s life.

From an organizational perspective, Trauma-Informed Care changes culture to emphasize respecting and appropriately responding to the effects of trauma at all levels. The intention of Trauma-Informed Care is not to treat individuals, but to provide support and related services in a way that is accessible and appropriate to those that may have experienced trauma. The risk for triggering or worsening trauma symptoms and re-traumatizing individuals increases when not using this approach.

Trauma informed care follows five guiding principles:

  1. Safety – (definition) Ensuring physical and emotional well-being.
    • Real-World Application: Creating welcoming common areas and respecting privacy.

  2. Choice – (definition) Providing the individual with control.
    • Real-World Application: Providing clear and appropriate message about individuals’ rights and responsibilities.

  3. Collaboration – (definition) Making decisions with the individual and sharing power.
    • Real-World Application: Providing a significant role for individuals in the planning and evaluation of services.

  4. Trustworthiness – (definition) Setting task clarity, consistency and interpersonal boundaries.
    • Real-World Application: Maintaining respectful and professional boundaries.

  5. Empowerment – (definition) Prioritizing empowerment and skill building.
    • Real-World Application: Providing an atmosphere that allows individuals to feel validated and affirmed with each contact.

As many mentoring programs will be serving youth who directly or indirectly experiences trauma or ACEs, NRPA recommends training mentors and program staff on how to recognize and address ACEs and apply a trauma-informed approach. Find short, micro-learning opportunities for Out-of-School Time staff on ACEs and trauma-informed care here:

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