How childhood trauma appears in the news

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We see the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) everywhere we turn: from the child "acting out" or falling behind in class, to the employee struggling to succeed in spite of mental illness, to the patient hospitalized once again because of chronic disease.

The term ACEs describes traumatic childhood experiences, such as losing a parent, experiencing abuse or neglect, or witnessing domestic violence or drug use. A groundbreaking study from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente found that the more ACEs an individual experiences, the greater his or her risk for chronic disease, mental illness, violence, and being a victim of violence. In other words, ACEs contribute to some of our biggest health and social challenges. Therefore, if we want to build a healthier society, we need to understand and address ACEs.

At Berkeley Media Studies Group, we know that the first step in addressing a problem is talking about it. That's because the way an issue gets discussed shapes our view both of the problem and of potential solutions. So, our research team conducted a news analysis to find out if ACEs were being talked about in the news, and how. Since ACEs affect every sector of society, we were interested in the connections that could be made beyond the health sector, particularly in education and business coverage.

Unsurprisingly, we found that while coverage of ACEs is growing, it is still minimal. Health care professionals are typically called on to speak about the issue — usually because of an initiative designed to raise awareness about childhood trauma. Otherwise, there is a lack of coverage.

In education, articles abound with overarching themes that directly relate to ACEs, but the connection to trauma is seldom made explicit. Education writers could make the link between ACEs and opportunities for low-income and minority students, academic achievement, community violence, sexual abuse and poverty. In business stories, mention of ACEs is even more rare, but there are plenty of opportunities to change this. For example, reporters could demonstrate how an economically sound society could play a role in preventing ACEs.

Expanding coverage of ACEs from health stories to other sectors could help the public understand how all sectors can address and prevent trauma. By teasing out how education and business sectors influence ACEs, the responsibility of dealing with trauma would shift from the health sector to all members of society.

To improve coverage, journalists need to be equipped to ask the questions that will get them a complete story. Advocates can help journalists do this by connecting them with sources and data that can illuminate how all institutions play a role in childhood trauma prevention.

To learn more about the type of work being done to increase ACEs awareness, come to BMSG's Dec. 9 screening of Paper Tigers, a movie documenting how a high school in Washington is changing how our education system deals with trauma. The event, co-hosted by the ACEs Connection Network, will be held in downtown Berkeley. Appetizers and refreshments will be provided, and we will hold a panel discussion after the screening to talk about trauma-informed practices happening in the Bay Area. The event is free, but registration is required. For more details about the event and to register, visit We hope to engage a diverse audience, so spread the word!

UPDATE: Registration is full for the Paper Tigers event. Join the waitlist at

paper tigers film screening promotion





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