“Our society has treated the abuse, maltreatment, violence, and chaotic experiences of our children as an oddity that is adequately dealt with by emergency response systems… These services are needed and are worthy of support—but they are a dressing on a greater wound… Later, in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood [affected persons will develop] behavioral, learning, social, criminal, and chronic health problems.”
This is the assessment of Dr. Robert Anda, M.D., one of the principal investigators of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs), conducted by the Maryland State Council on Child Abuse & Neglect in its annual report presented to Governor Hogan and the state legislature in June 2017.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, “Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. Research in this area has been referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), [which has] been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and early death. As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for these outcomes.”
This evaluation is nowhere more applicable than to children of Baltimore City, where there’s a strong case for an epidemic of ACEs. Looked at through this prism the crises in education, delinquency, violence, crime and substance abuse come clearly into focus. Reports last year that zero students at thirteen Baltimore high schools demonstrated math proficiency should be investigated for the likelihood that Adverse Childhood Experiences played a role in those results.
Many behaviors attributed to Baltimore youth mimic the symptoms displayed by military personnel returning from war zones, described as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. A case can be argued that the environment for too many of Baltimore’s children resembles a combat atmosphere. The unrelenting stressors encroaching these kids could be described as Contemporaneous Traumatic Stress Disorder, because it is felt 24/7 with no end in sight.
Low academic achievement, attendance and graduation rates, high delinquency, violence and incarceration rates, are not due to inherent susceptibility or natural predisposition of Baltimore’s children toward failure. Not only do the city’s youth have their senses constantly bombarded with negative, painful, threatening stimuli from various sources inside and outside their homes, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are compounded when their savior of last resort, their government, is viewed as just another threat.
Like the children of Iraq and Afghanistan, who’ve lived through a generation of war, imagine the insecurity Baltimore’s children must feel living under a government, in the person of police, who, from their perception, torment and brutalize them, their families and community. What are the emotions of kids who witness military-clad police with tactical weapons, gear and vehicles patrolling their neighborhoods in convoys, confronting their families and neighbors, and sometimes them directly, on top of the toxic social and cultural pressures stressing them daily?
For the children of Baltimore, epidemic rates of murder, assault, rape, gang activity, strong-arm police, child abuse, domestic abuse, substance abuse, overdose, illiteracy, extreme poverty, homelessness, malnutrition, undernourishment, lead poisoning, incarceration, inadequate heat, pest infestation and HIV, are not statistics. It’s a day in the life. Any wonder that test scores flop when more adversity than books are carried to school every day?
Regi Taylor is a native of West Baltimore and a writer.