By Cynthia G. Hawkins and Taylor Scribner, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, October 1, 2020
It is no secret that the foster care system in America is overwhelmed. Children usually enter the foster care system as a result of neglect, abandonment, or abuse. Many of these children spend years or even the rest of their childhood in foster care separated from their parents and often their siblings without ever having a permanent home. There is a light at the end of the tunnel for some of these children when they are adopted. However, adoption is just the beginning of the solution for children in foster care.
Almost certainly, every child who enters the foster care system has endured some sort of trauma. It is unrefuted that childhood trauma correlates with mental, physical, and behavioral problems well into adulthood. In 1998, one of the first major studies of the relationship between certain forms of childhood trauma and adult behavior and disease was reported. Dr. Vincent Felitti, then-head of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine, and his research team studied seven categories of childhood trauma: psychological abuse; physical abuse; sexual abuse; violence against their mother; and living with household members who were either substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or ever imprisoned. Collectively, these traumas are called “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACE).
Today ACE refers to ten common forms of trauma that individuals may have experienced as children. To put this issue in perspective, it is currently estimated that 34.8 million children in the United States are affected by ACE, two out of three adults have one or more ACE, and one out of eight adults have four or more ACE. Since the original study, several studies have been published linking ACE to detrimental lifelong effects relating to mental health, chronic health, and behavior patterns. Despite this, the consideration of ACE in family law and child welfare-related cases is a relatively new concept in courts across the country.