The Vicious Cycle ©

Charese Photo

Breaking the Vicious Cycle ©

Building on the resilience of girls, young women, and their families

Providing the opportunities, services, and supports they need to break the vicious cycle.

The critical link between childhood adversity, trauma, poor outcomes, and poverty

The Vicious Cycle© helps us better understand and visualize the interconnection between what is most often viewed as separate cycles of generational childhood adversity, including violence, poor outcomes, and poverty.

Today, our primary systems of care, such as child welfare and juvenile justice, are built around poor outcomes. In general, as a society, our response to children “acting out,” (whether that is truancy, defiant behavior, runaway, early onset of sexual activity, etc.) is to focus on the behavior and poor outcomes, not to address the root causes of it. The status quo today, is separate systems working in silos to respond to poor outcomes. But when viewed as components of the same “Vicious Cycle”©, what becomes obvious, is the need to address childhood adversity, and the resulting trauma, as precursors to poor outcomes. Furthermore, the Vicious Cycle highlights the inability of public systems working in silos to effectively interrupt the cycle.

Facing Childhood Adversity

Most people will say that they have experienced some form of childhood adversity as defined by their family, cultural, and social context. Why then, do two people who experience the same adversity react differently? We’re still learning about the answer to this question, but what we do know, is that some people have more resources available to help buffer the impact of the adversity on them. For example, a child who lives in a stable family with the financial means to get the support needed to heal, is at less risk of being stuck in poor outcomes, and living life in poverty. In contrast, children and families impacted by intersectional oppression for generations, are at high risk of experiencing multiple acute forms of childhood adversity, which in turn, pushes them into systems addressing poor outcome and poverty.

Because the Vicious Cycle© most often plagues families generationally, the model does not propose a beginning or an end. Instead, it points to the critical need to address all points of the cycle through a continuum of services and opportunities that spans each phase of the cycle. The challenge is shifting the focus from addressing isolated poor outcomes, to supporting individuals and families over time in changing the trajectory of their lives.

It is possible to break free from the Vicious Cycle© at any point

If holistic resources and support are provided for an adequate length of time, by:

  • Building on the resilience and self-empowerment of the young women striving to break Vicious Cycle©;
  • Providing the services, programs and supports, and connections or relationships, they need to succeed;
  • Offering opportunities for them to develop a new vision for their life, and a plan to achieve it; and
  • Seeing them as partners and leaders for change.

Time and time again, in families plagued by multiple generations of the Vicious Cycle©, we have seen young women, and young mothers, break this cycle.

It is our responsibility to use this model to work more effectively together, across silos and systems, to ensure that breaking free of the Vicious Cycle is the rule, not the exception. In applying this model to supporting girls and young women from Crittenton agencies, who live at the intersections of racism, sexism, classism and more, we know they experience a very high level of exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACE). Without access to the resources needed to heal and buffer the impact of these experiences, toxic stress and complex trauma take hold, which then leads to poor outcomes, such as mental health issues, and poor school performance. If the bad outcomes persist, these young women will most likely face adulthood living in short and long-term poverty, and the Vicious Cycle© continues another generation.

In 2015, 37% of detained girls were held for status offenses and technical violations

Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2017). “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.”