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We Need to Watch/Rethink Our Language!

 

A recent report – FOCUSING THE LENS: Language and framing related to the experience of adversity in childhood [https://www.acesconnection.com...publications-jsi-com ] -- challenges ACEsConnection members and Communities to join an “an inclusive and deliberate process of field-building” and a collective reappraisal of the language we employ to describe childhood adversity. Using some of the tools of social science, the report examines the frequency with which concepts such as ACEs, childhood adversity, toxic stress, childhood trauma, and trauma-informed practice appear in state and federal legislation, popular media, and research databases.

The evidence indicates the rise and dominance of use of “ACEs” in all of these media, although childhood trauma outpaces its use in popular media. This may be good news to the ACEs movement but the report teases out the implications of the narrow use of these terms for varied audiences and goals – “language and framing are crucial building blocks that impact how issues are received, understood and addressed.”

The use of ACEs language, for example, tends to emphasize deficits and to focus on individuals, thus pointing “to individual clinical, behavioral health, and healing interventions.” Resilience also often points to individuals as holding the key to overcome adversity by learning new strategies and skills. Trauma-informed practice calls attention to institutional practices and leads to efforts to change the ways that organizations operate and professionals practice. The language of ACEs, resilience and trauma-informed practices thus tends to turn attention away from structural racism and systemic inequities that make large categories of people more vulnerable to toxic stress than others.  

The report makes clear that no single term can capture the complexity of the issues and the varied audiences that need to be addressed. It urges a balanced approach – for example, the pairing of adverse community experiences with adverse childhood experiences to indicate that both individual healing and community/structural change are appropriate paths to address childhood adversity. It highlights the importance of prevention strategies and of language to support those strategies that reduce adversity to begin with rather than focusing exclusively on mitigating its effects as ACEs alone tends to do.

This thought-provoking report should be on the reading agenda of everyone involved in the ACEs movement!

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