How a story about childhood trauma in Paradise became one of community trauma []


My project for the Center for Health Journalism’s California Fellowship was focused on childhood trauma, zeroing in on a town in Northern California. In the fall, that town — Paradise, California — burned in a harrowing wildfire. The story quickly changed to one of community loss.

The story of trauma in two counties

My initial project was about Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. ACEs are one way to quantify how much childhood trauma a person has experienced before the age of 18. Through self-assessment, a person reviews whether they’ve experienced any of 10 categories of challenging experiences, such as emotional neglect, physical abuse, or a household riven by addiction or incarceration. For each negative experience a person has, his or her “ACE score” goes up by 1 point. The full range of the ACEs scale goes from zero (no ACEs) to 10 (a person who has experienced all 10 categories of adversity).

ACE scores matter because they are linked to poorer health in adulthood. A person with four or more ACEs has more than five times the risk of depression, four times the risk for chronic lung disease and double the risk for cancer. An ACE score of six or more shortens life expectancy by 20 years on average. What’s more, ACEs are incredibly common across socioeconomic groups.

[For more on this story by @Laura Klivans, go to]

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