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8 Myths About Screening For Adverse Childhood Experiences


By Laura Shamblin, MD FAAP
Most of us have now heard of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study published by Drs. Felitti and Anda in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in May of 1998. The study and many follow up studies have shown a direct and dose dependent relationship between adverse childhood experiences, or abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction, and adult risky behaviors and health outcomes. As a Pediatrician and advocate for Trauma Informed Care, I’d like to take this opportunity to address some of the objections to screening for ACEs that I have come across. It is true that some areas of research are still emerging, such as protocols, but in other ways we are twenty years behind using the information we have to make a positive difference in our patients lives and in training new physicians to be more comfortable addressing social and experiential determinants of health.
Myth #1 People don’t want to talk about their personal or family traumas.
In several studies, the vast majority of patients did not mind answering a screening tool at a primary care visit. (1,2) Clinics who have adopted ACEs have found using a cover page with a short explanation of the relationship between childhood traumas and adult health outcomes to be helpful. It has also helped to have ACEs screening papers given to the patient to be filled out either at home before the visit, or in a private patient room before seeing the doctor rather than in the public waiting room. Any adoption of a new screening tool should ideally have input from a patient advisory group before implementation to account for concerns of different patient populations. (3)
Myth #2 Filling out a questionnaire may cause someone to remember suppressed memories of childhood abuse and have a sudden onset or worsening of mental health issues.
This concern has been brought up in a couple of published articles (4), however there are many more articles recording the use of ACEs screening tools in various outpatient settings without reference to this situation actually happening. The ACEs questionnaire has also been given and shown to many, many large audiences at conferences and trainings and again, there has never been a case brought to light of any major mental health consequences, to my knowledge. On the contrary, many people express appreciation and even relief to learn the associations between childhood experiences and adult behaviors and health outcomes. They know there is a problem, and it is helpful to put a name to it and therefore be able to get more information about treatment and recovery steps that can be taken. There is mention of patients being uncomfortable with the information on health outcomes being given without being accompanied by information on resilience, buffering, and positive and compensatory experiences. (5)
Myth #3 There aren’t any truly evidence-based interventions for childhood trauma. We shouldn’t make families aware of the negative health outcomes, because there is nothing proven to help them.
This assumes that all positive screens will need a behavioral health care referral. In a large study of 3 community pediatric clinics in the Chicago area, screening for ACEs only resulted in referral for mental health care in 2% of patients. (6) In a feasibility study in a family medicine practice including adults, no new referrals were made. (1) When those services are needed, there are several modalities of treatment that have good evidence for use in children and are recommended by the AAP. At the top of the list would be Trauma-Focused CBT followed by PCIT and CPP. TBRI is also a growing modality with good results among the adoption community and schools but less research funding nationally. More information about treatment modalities can be found here.
For the many who do not need a referral, parenting resources such as local parenting classes (check with churches, hospitals, and pregnancy centers), as well as anticipatory guidance and education provided by the physician, is likely the most helpful resource and is the most asked for by parents. There is growing evidence that positive experiences in childhood as well as healthy attachment relationships with at least one adult both have a buffering effect on children who experience multiple ACEs. These positive experiences and relationships provide resilience as well as support for healing. (7,8)

For more visit https://www.traumainformedmd.c...ldhood-experiences#/

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