We all have an ACE score, or a tally of adverse childhood experiences. ACEs refer to any kind of abuse, neglect or traumatic experience that a child faces before they turn 18. The more of those difficult experiences a person faced, the higher their ACE score.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having a high number of ACEs can increase the risk of mental health issues, chronic conditions and lower life potential.
"That means what happens to you when you are 2, 3 or 4 somehow still matters when you're 20, 30 or 40 years old," says Dr. Anu Partap, a pediatrician and the director of the Center for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth.
Partap chaired a Tarrant County task force on ACEs and presented the group's findings to the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday.
"Turns out, when you ask these questions, 40% of adults — across demographics, across income, education, ethnicity — 40% of us have lived with two or more of these adversities before the age of 18," Partap says.
The Tarrant County task force recommends prioritizing access to healthy food, quality housing and mental health care for families facing adversity. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price says she wants the city council to bring a resolution forward next month in support of those changes.
Price says the city has launched a pilot program to help families dealing with ACEs in one high-risk ZIP code. They're focusing on pregnant women, young children and caregivers by making changes like training first responders on how to look for signs and connecting more families with services.
"Certainly we're not going in your home uninvited, but our role is to teach people that it's ok to talk about issues," Price says. "If you've got an abuse issue, if you've got a neglect issue, it's OK to come forward and ask for help on that, and here are some places you can find help."
One of the places trying to help is the Center for Transforming Lives in Fort Worth. The nonprofit works to help women and children access safe housing, early childhood education and achieve financial stability.
Stephanie Gillespie, the center's clinical director, says it's important to remember that each person is unique, and ACEs simply serve as a guide to point out risk factors. Just because someone had a rough childhood doesn't mean they're destined for poor life outcomes.
"Just like we have different risk factors, we also have different resiliency factors as well," Gillespie says. "Even one caring healthy adult being involved in a child's life can build incredible resiliency."