Home is the foundation of a healthy life, including mental health…
…and no other instrumentality (therapy or social services) can take its place nor fulfill its essential functions. Many professionals in the mental health field provide services for youth and children. Unfortunately, many of those services are provided from the point of view that the problem is within the child, or a deficit in thinking, emoting, and behaving rather than focusing on stabilizing the home environment. Much of the treatment of children is delivered to alleviate the impact of poor home environments. The real lesson of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study is that we need to be paying attention to family stability, not just kids.
When we focus on helping families create stability and security, we are investing toward a higher quality of life for all members of the family.
The ACEs study was completed two decades ago but has been largely ignored. The study found that there are certain experiences in childhood that lead to a heightened likelihood of developing problems in adulthood. These experiences, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), can include things like abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence or substance abuse. The study also clearly proclaims that family instability is equal to abuse and neglect in its ability to disrupt the life and health of individuals within the family. The study found that the more ACEs a person had, the greater their risk of problems like depression, anxiety, addiction, and heart disease. This is in addition to relational problems, broken marriages, and failure to adequately nurture secure attachments later in life.
The Good News
We can mitigate the effects of ACEs by providing support to families. When families have access to resources like mental health services, parenting education, and financial assistance, they are better able to create stability and security for their children. This stability can go a long way to alleviate lifelong physical and mental health challenges.
More focus and skill development are needed to assist families and to increase relational safety and stability. This requires increasing the maturing of the adults in a child’s life, where the adults are intentional and deliberate in creating a home life that fosters nurturing and secure attachments. As significant and valuable as organizational efforts are to support children, I believe firmly that the focus on youth and children, rather than family stability, underserves the very children we hope to help and support.
Dr. Robert Rhoton, CEO of Arizona Trauma Institute and President at the Trauma Institute International possesses a rich history of experience in the mental health field and works internationally with organizations to improve the delivery of trauma treatment services.