Adverse Childhood Experiences and Food Insecurity

Here is a topic that’s both heartbreaking and hopeful: Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE. Have you heard of ACE?

Thanks to a series of in-depth studies over the past few decades (like this one, and this summary from the CDC), researchers are beginning to understand the impact of a variety of things that some children in our country have to live through.

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Adverse Childhood Experiences include things like being in a household that’s been reported to CPS for abuse or neglect, being a victim of violence or a witness to violence, a parent with substance abuse, the prolonged absence of a parent, the divorce of parents, death of someone close to the child, frequent family conflict, and family financial problems.

Exposure to each of these events increases a child’s risk of many long-term impacts physically, emotionally, psychologically, and mentally. The more exposures and the longer the exposures, the more harmful the outcomes.

Remembering the Child in Each Statistic

Of course, there’s no set formula that will predict exactly how ACEs impact each child. Just as every child is unique and valuable, the impacts are all a little (or a lot) different.

What we know is that ACEs accumulate in a child’s little body and can lead to toxic stress. That’s as bad as it sounds: children living in toxic stress are living with constant fight-or-flight hormones being released in their body.

Think of the last time you truly felt that fight-or-flight feeling. Maybe you witnessed an attack, or lost a loved one, or a fire started in your house. Children are feeling this all day, every day. And toxic stress can harm their organs, tissues, and brain development, leading to lifetime damage and impacts.

How Can Agape’s Backpack Program Help?

Food insecurity isn’t listed directly as an ACE. However, numerous studies look at the relationship between food insecurity and ACEs. Children experiencing ACEs are much more likely to also live in houses experiencing food insecurity.

That’s so hard to think about. This article from the National Library of Medicine discusses the findings. Children already experiencing trauma and stress are also going hungry every day. It seems so unfair­—it is so unfair.

As we learn about ACE, it can look hopeless. But there is hope! Because we are also learning that there are things we can do to help these children! We can immediately mitigate the stress of food insecurity by providing food. And that’s exactly what we do every week.

The studies about the positive impacts of backpack programs absolutely relate to children everywhere.

And there’s one more thing that we believe we’re doing: we’re showing children that there are people who care about them, who will show up every week with food.

In the school we work with, every week children ask their teachers, “Are we getting Agape this week?” And every week those teachers are happy to say, “Yes you are.” For that day, and for that weekend, the stress of food insecurity is eased. We believe that matters.

Will you join us in doing what we can to help children?