Many people who overcome challenges and succeed are often called resilient. Meaning they have the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens”(Merriam Webster). However, rarely do we indulge in the conversation that identifies all of the traumatic experiences through which children have to go through to be labeled resilient in the end. To better understand how adversity builds resilience in homeless youth we must gain an understanding of
Trauma in itself can be described as a personal response “from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” (SAMHSA, 2014). It’s imperative to note that homelessness is considered a traumatic experience that can be considered an adverse experience for anyone. Youth who experience homelessness can process these events in unique ways and oftentimes need more support from healthy relationships to develop social-emotional skills at an early age.
What is an ACE score?
The adverse childhood experience (ACE) study was put together in 1995 by the Center for Disease Control and the Kaiser Permanente health care organization of California. In the original study, there were three categories of adverse experiences. The first one was physical and emotional abuse, the second one was neglect, and lastly household dysfunction. It wasn’t until later that community and systemic issues were recognized as adverse experiences. According to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, “the body’s stress response does not distinguish between overt threats from inside or outside the home environment, it just recognizes when there is a threat, and goes on high alert.” When youth are on high alert all the time it means that they are not able to properly identify or self-regulate their mental state to acknowledge that they are safe and well. The ACE study presents us with valuable insight into the upbringing of the child and what types of adversity they may be facing. From this data we as educators, community heroes and parents can best support the development of the whole child.
How is Resiliency Built and Measured
Science has proven that some children develop the ability to be resilient while others do not. In other words some people are able to “bounce back” from a traumatic experience while others stay in a fight or flight response long after the traumatic experience has passed. We can think of resilience as a balancing act of the good outweighing the bad. Some of these positives that can outweigh the bad are supportive adults, healthy relationships and exposure to positive experiences. Imagine if a child is only having adverse experiences in their life and the scale is tipped heavily to one side, what is the likelihood that resiliency will be the outcome? In this instance there are other risk factors that come into play like long term health problems, developmental delays and other behavioral issues that may arise. For these reasons it’s important to note that all children can build resilience if they have the proper support and guidance from the people around them. If someone’s scale has been tipped to the negative side for most of their life, the possibility for them to build resilience is still there. Thankfully the brain is a beautiful muscle that is able to learn new things and reprogram itself time and time again. Noting those adverse experiences and working through the trauma as well as building up the positive experiences can help to balance out the scale at any age in life.
Before we can begin to support others along their journey it is imperative that we understand the depths at which the trauma of homelessness affects certain demographics. In Chicago alone, %81 of people who identified as homeless were Black/African American in 2019. (Chicago Coalition for the Homeless) in the same year 1,343 were students enrolled in the Students in temporary Living Situation program with CPS and only %11 reported living in an actual shelter. When we come across these learners in our daily programs we must adopt a trauma centered lens that allows us to see the potential for resiliency in their situation and develop an empathetic approach to build out positive learning experiences that will support that child on their journey. This will empower us to see the potential in their situation as an opportunity to build resilience in the face of adversity and change the expected outcomes that lie farther down the road.