Adverse childhood experiences affect unemployment; Maté: childhood trauma is universal template for addiction; “Runaway Girl” — from street life to MBA

Most of the talk about the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) focuses on the link between ACEs and adult onset of chronic disease; depression, suicide and other mental health issues; violence and being a victim of violence. There’s been less attention on the finding that the higher a person’s ACE score, the increased risk of absenteeism from work, serious financial problems and serious job problems. Now there’s evidence that ACEs affect unemployment, too.

When researchers from the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion examined the data from ACE surveys in five states, which included 17,469 people between the ages of 18 and 64, they found that the 2009 unemployment rate of men and women was “significantly higher among those who reported having had any ACEs than among those who reported no ACEs”, according to the study published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Two-thirds of the people in the study had at least one ACEs; 15.1 % of men and 19.3 % of women reported having had four or more ACEs.

Some folks have already taken this information to heart.

When Washington State did its own ACE survey in 2009, it found a “stunning fact”, says Laura Porter, director of ACE partnerships in the state’s Department of Social and Health Service: The survey revealed that “52% of functional disability is attributable to ACES.” Because of how much ACEs contribute to the list of barriers to employment, there’s now a push to integrate ACE concepts into the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, which helps people with disabilities find work. Many of the state’s communities have already integrated ACE concepts into public health, schools and juvenile justice.

On a national level, ReadyNation, formerly the Partnership for America’s Economic Success, has

embarked on a campaign to encourage business leaders to support early childhood policies, including early childhood education. It appears that information about the link between toxic stress and brain development is reaching the top echelons of business and economics. The ReadyNation site features an excerpt from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech to the Children’s Defense Fund national conference last month:

“Neuroscientists observe that if the first few years of a child’s life include support for healthy development in families and communities, the child is more likely to succeed in school and to contribute to society as an adult.”

To calculate your ACE score, and to obtain information about what it means, go to Got Your ACE Score? on this site.

GABOR MATÉ BEGAN HIS CAREER as a family physician and ended up in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood to work with people suffering from addiction, mental illness and HIV. His 2010 book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction was a No. 1 bestseller in Canada. He has a different approach to treating addiction than some others. He did a very interesting Q-and-A with reporter Maia Szalavitz to explain. A tidbit:

I think childhood trauma or emotional loss is the universal template for addiction. It also depends on how you want to define trauma: if you want to define it as something bad happening, then it’s true that not every addict [has experienced trauma], in the sense of a death of a parent or violence in the family or child abuse, or any of the usual markers of trauma.

But there’s another [way to define it]. D.W. Winnicott [the late British child psychiatrist] said that there are two things that can go wrong in childhood: things that happen that shouldn’t happen — that’s trauma — and things that should happen that don’t happen. Children are equally hurt by things that should happen and don’t as they are by things that shouldn’t happen but do. If the parents aren’t emotionally available, [for example], no one will define that as trauma, but it will be for the child. If a mother has postpartum depression, that’s not defined as trauma but it can lead to emotional neglect and that interferes with child brain development.

What I’m saying is that early emotional loss is the universal template for all addictions. All addictions are about self-soothing. And when do children need to sooth themselves? When they are not being soothed.

CARISSA PHELPS’ BOOK RUNAWAY GIRL “shines a light into an appalling scene set in America’s back alleys and cheap motels,” says this review by the Journalism Center on Children & Families. Here’s a small part of the review of a book that is a must-read.

This was the first of many times Carissa Phelps was sold for sex, all before she even became a teenager. The child runaway, desperate and alone on the mean streets of Fresno, Calif., had just fallen into the hands of Icey, a violent pimp. She was raped at gunpoint, forced to smoke crack and strangled with a belt while Icey himself raped her, just before he laid down the rules: “You’re a f-ing bitch, do you understand that? You belong to me. You came from my rib, the Bible says that. I own you, just like all men own women, and I can do whatever I want with you.”

He could not have been more wrong. Today, Carissa Phelps is a UCLA graduate with a law degree and an MBA. With brutal honesty and detail, she tells how she wound up in sex trafficking and how she got out in her new memoir, Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets, One Helping Hand at a Time.

Phelps’ story starts where those who are familiar with the CDC’s ACE Study and research on children’s developing brains might predict: in a home with 11 siblings that was poor, both economically and in nurturing. After running away from group homes, Phelps luckily landed in a last-chance reform school for girls where people believed in her.


  1. As with all things a responsible look at all the information is important before drawing any conclusions. Children want to know where acceptable social boundaries are.
    I have seen no information on the non-physical abuse of intimidation or degradation via.
    belittling of a child. This is possibly even more detrimental than physical abuse.
    This is a subtle form of abuse in schools. Part of the liberal indoctrination and brainwashing to support the collective socialist movement.
    The whole thing about not disciplining a child is called into question with the glaring example of Dr. Spock’s son who was the poster child of the entire premise promoting hands off in child development, committing suicide. Then there is the issue of the social example of Karl Marx simply allowing 3 of his children to starve to death rather than his going to work to feed them. Socialism that is currently in vogue has some real problems as well. So in conclusion I would have to caution against the willingness to allow compassion and emotions to be the total bases for determining viable solutions in child development.


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