Spotlight: Important Preventions

April is Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness month – two areas of trauma that affect participants we serve locally and youth across the country.

While we can’t always prevent all abuse from happening, we can provide necessary skills to recognize warning signs, interrupt generational trauma, and empower healthy relationships. As we address how we build preventative skills, it’s important to understand the current social climate youth are experiencing. Throughout this blog, we will be discussing challenges youth face today and provide how we are able address them while empowering participants’ growth.

A participant survey conducted by the YWRC found that rates of trauma through Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)* were high amongst program participants. ACEs measure instances of adversity that occur within a child’s home, including food insecurity, unstable housing, the loss of a loved one, and abuse.

Here’s what the YWRC’s measurements have revealed:

49% of YWRC Empowerment After School and 39% of YWRC Empowerment In-School Empowerment program participants had experienced four or more ACEs in their lifetime, indicating a significant level or stress and trauma. On average, only 17% of Iowans have experienced four or more ACEs.

57% of Young Moms program participants have experienced four or more ACEs in their lifetime, indicating a significant level or stress and trauma. The specific childhood traumas/stressors these participants experienced include “family emotional abuse” at 62%, “hunger or lack of food” at 43%, “physical abuse or assault” at 32%, and “unstable housing” at 49%.

74% of Counseling and Therapeutic Program clients have experienced four or more ACEs in their lifetime. Reminder – on average, only 17% of Iowans have experienced four or more ACEs

What does this mean and what can we do about it?

ACEs are linked to chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental illness, and substance use problems in adolescence and adulthood. ACEs can also negatively impact education achievement, job opportunities, and earning potential. However, ACEs can be prevented, and youth can heal.

We know that building four protective skill sets can increase resiliency, a critical component to coping with and counteracting the negative, long-term effects of ACEs. The four protective factor categories we utilize at the YWRC are Connections & Strong Social Network, Confidence & Self-esteem, Competence & Sense of Purpose, and Coping & Self-control. Through centering these key protective factors, we can help participants increase the resiliency, identify risks, and counteract the negative later-in-life effects of trauma for a healthy future.

Last year, 89.6% of After School Empowerment Group participants maintained or demonstrated improvement in at least one of these four resiliency categories, and 46% showed improvement in overall resiliency (the sum of all four categories). By working to improve participant resiliency, this program is helping to interrupt the negative cycles and impact that childhood trauma has on their future.

In addition to the four skill sets, Young Moms programs addresses additional preventative factors, such as economic security. Young Moms programs also emphasize the importance of participants’ education, which affects their long-term economic success and ability to provide a stable, safe future for themselves and their children. We are thrilled to report that 83% of YWRC Young Moms participants graduated high school or were on track to graduate on time last year (versus the national average of 50%). Providing realistic solutions and encouragement, while working alongside them, is key for youth.

As many of you may be aware, the need for counseling and mental health support of youth in our community continues to rise. The number of participants served in the YWRC Counseling and Therapeutic program DOUBLED last year, far surpassing our goal of a 20% increase. This reinforces the need in our community for free, accessible, non-judgmental counseling. Receiving counseling for improved mental and overall well-being is a key component of creating positive coping skills, identifying red flags in relationships, preventing further harm, and working through past ACEs.

80% of YWRC Counseling participants demonstrated improvement in their overall wellbeing last year. “In a matter of 12 – 16 weeks, I witnessed a participant transform into a strong, confident, and empowered young women with a voice to make things happen for herself.” says a YWRC counseling staff member.  

We know it is crucial for participants to develop the skills needed to interrupt the negative results these traumas can project, to break generational trauma, and to empower them to determine healthy choices for themselves and their children. Whether youth have experienced traumas or not, it is important to equip them with the necessary skill sets that lead to prevention and recovery. These efforts remain central to our work.

Know a youth that could benefit or is interested in our programs? Find out more about what we offer and how to get them signed up on our Programs page here:

*ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years of age) that undermine their sense of safety, stability, and bonding. Examples of ACEs can include experiencing and/or witnessing violence, physical/mental/emotional abuse, neglect, substance use problems, mental health difficulties, parental separation, and incarceration.