The Hawaiian legislature is considering passing a resolution encouraging parts of the government that work with children to incorporate the Adverse Childhood Experiences research into their practices. This is an important step, and we submitted the following testimony in support of it
Testimony in Support of SCR 136
I am the Director of Research for the Stop Abuse Campaign and have written some of the leading books concerning domestic violence and custody. I worked directly with Dr. Vincent Felitti who was the lead author of the original ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study in preparing an ACE chapter for my book The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion. You should be congratulated for sponsoring this ACE Resolution and I strongly support its passage.
We often compare the ACE Research to the Surgeon General’s 1964 Study that linked cancer and smoking. Both studies could be depressing when you consider the enormous harm caused by tolerating smoking, domestic violence and child abuse, but it also provides a wonderful opportunity. Society used the Surgeon General’s Report to change a variety of laws and practices and provide education in order to discourage smoking. This has saved millions of lives and trillions of dollars. Hawaii, and the nation as a whole are happier, healthier and wealthier because of the efforts to implement the scientific and medical findings in the Surgeon General’s Report.
When you consider the full history of mankind, until very recently, behavior that we now would consider domestic violence and child abuse was both acceptable and legal. You may remember that some of the athletes who recently got in trouble for domestic violence and child abuse claimed surprise that they did anything wrong as they were only repeating the actions they witnessed and experienced as children.
The fundamental findings of the ACE Research is that children exposed to domestic violence, child abuse and other trauma will live shorter lives and have a lifetime of health and social problems. As a society, we have tended to focus almost exclusively on physical assaults and the resultant physical injuries, but 99% of the harm is caused from living with the fear which causes the worst kind of stress. The courts in Hawaii, like the courts in every other state and virtually every country are not focusing on protecting the children from the non-physical wounds and therefore can do nothing to save the children.
Dr. Felitti emphasized that the best use of his research is prevention. The present level of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, crime, substance abuse, suicide and many other health and social problems is based on our present level of domestic violence and child abuse. Just like with our response to the link between smoking and cancer, the ACE Research provides an exciting opportunity to make Hawaii healthier, wealthier, safer and happier and the benefits will be even greater than in 1964 because ACE covers a wider array of health and social problems. This resolution will promote these wonderful benefits.
As part of my research for the Quincy book I had a chance to interview medical professionals working with the ACE Research. I asked them the question that I believe should be most important in custody cases. When a child has been exposed to one or more ACEs, is there anything we can do now to save the child from the horrific consequences?
The answer is yes, but requires two responses. The first is that the children need therapy and treatment for any problems they are having and also to reduce the stress. This means the safe parent must be able to make all medical decisions because an abuser doesn’t want the children in therapy where they might reveal his abuse. The second response requires children to be protected from abusers because they cannot heal if they continue to live in fear.
I appreciate that court officials would like to believe they are doing everything right, but the discussions based on the ACE Research are not happening in domestic violence custody cases. The outcomes routinely take away the children’s last chance for a full and successful life. I must tell you my heart breaks every day when I hear these horrific stories in Hawaii and every other state.
The ACE Research provides an enormous opportunity for our children and for society. Thank you for doing the research and work to bring this opportunity to Hawaii. Only good things can come from integrating the ACE Research into standard practices.