ACES Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey and Child Welfare

I went to the Child Well Being conference in May.  It was jam packed full of information. It was interesting to see how the different presenters each re-enforced the other.  Two of them even used the same quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”

What I found frustrating is that I went to the conference hoping to find others who are passionate about improving the child welfare system. And I did. Numerous people are concerned about the well-being of all children.  We truly are a compassionate people here in this state.  But, there is no coordinated effort to intervene in an effective manner.  What we have are silos and gaps.  We have a host of caring and ineffective delivery of inadequate services.  Sometimes there is some success, but for the most part what the young people we desperately try to help experiences is far from adequate.

There has been significant research for many years about Adverse Childhood Experiences.  The more issues one faces as a child, the greater health risks one will face as an adult.   We already know this, it is well documented.   (You can calculate your score here: Your ACE Score.pdf).  The items on the survey include different types of abuse and neglect.  Not included are things that no one can foresee or prevent, like death or disaster.  Each event named has a profound effect on a person’s life. Stacking up these types of events in a childhood leads to a burden too heavy to carry.  The long term emotional and physical health of a person is at risk.

Let’s pretend that we don’t care about other people. Their well being is none of our business.  They are not our family members, that’s not my grandchild, why should I care?  (I know that’s not you or me, we wouldn’t be here on this blog together if that were the case).  The health risks from these events in childhood are heart disease, diabetes, mental health problems and addiction.  These problems are expensive to treat.  Early intervention is far less expensive.  Positive outcomes bring more able bodied people to the work force, thus the economic benefit is beyond simply the savings of early treatment.  To me it is painfully obvious that we who have been blessed to have lower ACES scores have an interest in helping those who are at risk of high scores to overcome them.

We do try. We have a social service system in place. However, in the misguided mindset of fiscal responsibility, services are frequently underfunded.  There is a huge gap between our expectations of social service providers and our willingness to equip them with the people, training, and supplies that they need in order to be effective.  We are not paying adequate attention.



Hating Child Protection Agencies

OH the temptation is to hate Child Protection Agencies.  In some places CPS is the object of loathing, here in Louisiana they are called DCFS, Department of Children and Family Services.   We read a report about a child killed while in foster care and then rant and rave about incompetency and uncaring. Or, we read about a child who is abused by their family who had been investigated by CPS previously, and the same charges apply again.  It seems that CPS simply can’t get it right.

I hate that children die. Whether they are in foster care or in the care of their parents, it is a tragedy when a child dies. Especially if the child dies from abuse or neglect at the hands of those who are charged with caring for them.  Whether the people are the child’s natural parents or foster parents is a moot point.  It is simply awful.

Let’s back up a little and look at the options we face.

We could do nothing when a child is being abused. After, the child surely has parents, let the parents figure it out.  That idea is so abhorrent it is difficult for me to express.  Children deserve protection, nurture, and love. When they are being abused, it goes against what I believe is supposed to happen in families.

We could keep the child in the home and offer services there.  Which, actually does occur quite a bit.  There have been many successes in this system. Most of the time, people who are parents really want to be good parents.  Sometimes there is a skill deficit and new skills is all that’s necessary.  The problems that the agencies face are common ones.

1.  There aren’t enough resources for the parents readily available.  It’s all well and good for the worker to say that a parent needs support, if the community doesn’t have parental support they can’t get it.

2.  The caseloads are overwhelming.  The wisdom of Solomon is in short supply when we get overwhelmed with competing priorities.

3. The work sucks.  Being the one to rescue a child from their own parents sucks.  Plus, the paperwork, the pressure, the bureaucracy, and the responsibility sucks.  It takes a lion’s heart to be able to do the work and maintain one’s own sanity. There are far more wonderful CPS workers than poor ones.

What has evolved over the years is a delicate balance.  The state has a vested interest in keeping children in their own homes.  However, when a child must be removed for their safety, the state has a responsibility to assure that their placement is better than that home.

We can point out problems all day long.  What we need to do is help CPS find solutions.  We are a society that cares about its children. We need to put our thinking caps on and figure this out.