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Addressing adverse childhood experiences

Traumatic events in children’s lives can lead to problems later in life.
It seems obvious, but researchers wanted to know more.
Scientific research has identified physical and mental health problems linked to early childhood trauma events known as adverse childhood experiences or ACEs. 
“Thru extensive research, they have identified common risk factors in people that often develop physical and emotional problems as they become teenagers and young adults,” explained Thomas Mott, director of counseling services for Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. “Not all children who experience one ACE event (or two) will have problems later in life. However, the research has shown that the greater the number of ACEs in childhood, the greater the chance for health problems down the road. The research also identified the factors that can help protect a child from trauma events and increase their resilience to future problems.”
He is part of a team of people and a nationwide initiative called “Building Flourishing Communities,” which, in Vermont, is supported by the Vermont Department of Health and the Department of Children and Families.
The initiative is promoting public awareness of the scientific research that has identified the physical and mental health problems linked to early childhood trauma events.
The goal is talking about ACEs will raise public awareness and decrease the occurrence of future ACEs in children, thus, improving individual lives, their families and the community at large.
Local presentations on the topic will take place in various locations in Chittenden County. The first will be on Jan. 18 at St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The second presentation will take place Feb. 14 at Flynn Elementary School in Burlington from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Future ones will take place in Milton and Essex Junction.
Examples of ACEs include being verbally, physically or sexually abused; being subjected to threats of bodily harm; feeling neglected or unloved by family; not having enough food to eat or clothes to wear; losing a biological parent through divorce or abandonment; witnessing one’s mother being pushed, grabbed, slapped or hit; living with someone who is a problem drinker or uses street drugs; having a family member who is depressed or mentally ill; or having a household member attempt suicide or be incarcerated.
“ACEs impact the individual, who in turn influences their family members. Similarly, families that act in unhealthy ways influence other families and the communities they live in,” said Mott whose participation in the ACE’s project is part of his ministry as a mental health and substance abuse counselor for Vermont Catholic Charities.
“Vermont Catholic Charities is committed to supporting people and families in need. By helping to strengthen families, we support our local communities and the activities of the Catholic Church throughout Vermont,” he said. “It’s important the Catholic Church play a role in community activities so that people see we put words into action.”
Future ACEs can be prevented when parents, grandparents and other care givers learn how their words and actions have a direct influence on children, for good and bad, he said, adding that “by educating people about childhood trauma, we can help prevent future generations from being mistreated and develop personal resilience to life’s challenges.”
Recent conversations have focused on domestic violence. “Our clergy and many laypeople started conversations about the topic, and women started to say ‘No’ to abuse,” Mott said. “Women sought help from battered women’s shelters and some entered into counseling. We are extending that conversation to childhood trauma now. Our goal is to promote awareness and knowledge so that future generations of children will be free of trauma.”
For more information, contact Vermont Catholic Charities at 802-658-6111.
  • Published in Diocesan

Defend and protect children, says pope

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Stand up and protect children from exploitation, slaughter and abuse, which includes committing to a policy of "zero tolerance" of sexual abuse by clergy, Pope Francis told the world's bishops.

Wake up to what is happening to so many of today's innocents and be moved by their plight and the cries of their mothers to do everything to protect life, helping it "be born and grow," he said in a letter sent to bishops commemorating the feast of the Holy Innocents, Dec. 28. The Vatican press office published the letter and translations from the original Italian Jan. 2.

Just as King Herod's men slaughtered young children of Bethlehem in his "unbridled thirst for power," there are plenty of new Herods today -- gang members, criminal networks and "merchants of death" -- "who devour the innocence of our children" through slave labor, prostitution and exploitation, he said. Wars and forced immigration also strip children of their innocence, joy and dignity, he added.

The prophet Jeremiah was aware of this "sobbing and loud lamentation" and knew that Rachel was "weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled since they were no more."

"Today too, we hear this heart-rending cry of pain, which we neither desire nor are able to ignore or to silence," Pope Francis said.

"Christmas is also accompanied, whether we like it or not, by tears," and the Gospel writers "did not disguise reality to make it more credible or attractive."

Christmas and the birth of the son of God aren't about escaping reality, but are a way to help "contemplate this cry of pain, to open our eyes and ears to what is going on around us, and to let our hearts be attentive and open to the pain of our neighbors, especially where children are involved. It also means realizing that that sad chapter in history is still being written today."

Given such challenges, Pope Francis told the world's bishops to look to St. Joseph as a role model.

This obedient and loyal man was capable of recognizing and listening to God's voice, which meant St. Joseph could let himself be guided by his will and be moved by "what was going on around him and was able to interpret these events realistically."

"The same thing is asked of us pastors today: to be men attentive, and not deaf, to the voice of God, and hence more sensitive to what is happening all around us," he said.

Like St. Joseph, "we are asked not to let ourselves be robbed of joy. We are asked to protect this joy from the Herods of our own time. Like Joseph, we need the courage to respond to this reality, to arise and take it firmly in hand."

The church weeps not only for children suffering the pain of poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, forced displacement, slavery and sexual exploitation, the pope said, she weeps "because she recognizes the sins of some of her members: the sufferings, the experiences and the pain of minors who were abused sexually by priests."

"It is a sin that shames us," he said, that people who were responsible for caring for children, "destroyed their dignity."

Deploring "the sin of what happened, the sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of the abuse of power," the church also begs for forgiveness, he said.

"Today, as we commemorate the feast of the Holy Innocents, I would like us to renew our complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst. Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated. In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to 'zero tolerance,'" he said.

The pope urged the bishops to remember that Christian joy doesn't ignore or sugarcoat reality, but "is born from a call" to embrace and protect life, "especially that of the holy innocents."

He asked they renew their commitment to be shepherds with the courage to acknowledge what so many children are experiencing today and to work to guarantee the kind of conditions needed so their dignity will be respected and defended.

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Editors: The text of the pope's letter in English and Spanish can be found on the Vatican website.
  • Published in Vatican
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