In the article “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Protective Factors with School Engagement,” Robles et al identify several key family and neighborhood protective factors that might help mitigate the effect of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on school outcomes. Academic performance is 1 of the strongest and most consistent predictors of health, both during childhood and throughout the life course. There is also increasing evidence that ACEs are a key pathway through which disparities in academic and health outcomes may be transmitted across generations. Hence, identifying strategies that can support school function, particularly among those affected by ACEs, may be critical for reducing health disparities.
One particularly interesting finding noted by the authors was that the most powerful protective factor in their analysis was having a parent who can talk to the child about things that matter and share ideas. Many of the traditional ACEs (such as experiencing abuse or neglect and being separated from a parent because of death, incarceration, or divorce) disrupt the healthy development of social bonds within a family and may leave children without the consistency and support they need to thrive. Hence, it is not surprising that having positive supportive relationships with adults is a source of resilience.
Strengthening a child’s existing family connections and improving family functioning by referring children and parents to mental health services, parenting programs, and social services may help address the effects of trauma and reduce additional family stressors for patients with a history of ACEs. Solely relying on such individual referral strategies, however, is likely insufficient to meet the needs of all children and families affected by ACEs.