National Crittenton and the Crittenton Family of Agencies have known for more than a century that the obstacles faced by girls and young women are the result of acute and persistent exposure to chronic adversity, violence, and injustice. Our challenge was, and is, finding ways to effectively communicate to policymakers and funders the complexity of the barriers girls face and their root causes. In 2011, we discovered that the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) survey results could play an important role in explaining the challenges girls face. Since then, we have used ACE research and brain science to communicate the lived experiences of trauma faced by girls and young women supported by the Crittenton Family of Agencies and other girl-serving organizations.

Mother Baby Photo

The ACE Survey is a valuable tool that harnesses the power of data to foster social change. ACE data increases awareness about the breadth and impact of exposure to childhood adversity and the resulting complex trauma. Combined with brain research and the science of epigenetics, we now know more about the damage that Adverse Childhood Experiences create, and about the life-long process of healing. Thankfully, we also know about the tremendous capacity of young women to heal and thrive, and the brains ability to adapt. We know that the ACE Survey is limited in scope, and that it does not include all the forms of adversity that children and youth today face. As such, we believe it is crucial to work with young women as leaders to address these limitations and the roots causes of the adversity they face.

In 2010, the Crittenton Family of Agencies began a three-step evidence-building process with the goal of more effectively defining the experiences of girls and young women, and of identifying what works, and where the gaps are in services provided to marginalized girls and young women. As a first step we began working with Dr. Vincent Felitti, who led the charge in research into how ACEs affect adults, to have Crittenton agencies administer the ACE survey as a pilot in 18 states. This was the first time that the ACE survey was used with system-involved youth. The ACE brief on results for young mothers was released in 2012 at a Capitol Hill event in Washington, DC hosted by National Crittenton. You can read more about the results in this brief, which focuses on the findings gleaned through this pilot, specifically for young mothers, with a comparison to the Kaiser Foundation/Centers for Disease Control study population, and all young women involved with Crittenton. Summaries on girls and boys in residential programs and on girls involved with the juvenile justice system were subsequently released in 2013.

Some results from the first administration of the ACE survey among 18 Crittenton agencies.

The second administration of the ACE survey took place in 2014 among 18 agencies. For this second round, Dr. Roy Wade was the researcher through the Stoneleigh Foundation. Working with Dr. Wade, the Crittenton Family of Agencies and National Crittenton created a comprehensive tool that included a detailed demographic section, the ACE survey, and the addition of three well-being domains – coping, stress and connection. The use of the well-being domain questions was piloted by seven of the participating agencies. Moreover, in preparation for the second administration of the ACE survey, a protocol for administration of the ACE survey was developed, training was administered to all staff administering the ACE survey, and an enhanced demographic section was created. Beyond ACE, summary findings from the second ACE administration were presented at a Congressional Briefing in October of 2015.

The process and data collected from the second administration of the ACE survey was also used in partnership with ASCEND at the Aspen Institute to develop an ACE Toolkit for Providers in 2015. The toolkit includes resources to assist providers who are interested in using the ACE survey to promote healing for individuals impacted by childhood trauma, educate the community about the impact of childhood adversity, and promote two-generation policies designed to prevent ACEs for future generations. The following year, a Beyond ACEs webinar was also conducted to highlight findings of the 2014-2015 administration of the ACE survey and the brief: Beyond ACEs 2016, was released.

We believe that the key to accessing the resources and policies needed to promote the potential of marginalized girls and young women is our ability to define the obstacles that confront them through no fault of their own. This must be done in terms that can be understood by a broad cross-section of stakeholders – from family members, clinicians, the public, and policy makers, to the young women themselves, and ACE helps us to do so. Moreover, we have seen how learning about ACEs often has a positive impact on girls and young women’s understanding of themselves and their families, their ability to heal, and their vision for the future.