Week 6: Reflecting on Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adverse Community Experiences

Prepare by watching the videos/documentaries and reading the article as described in Week 6. Note, that the combined length of videos is almost 3 hours.

The Three-year Nightmare (2001) and Australia’s Shame (2017) are horrifying examples of how society fight pain with more pain. Reflect on the impact these experiences have on young people’s development and their resources to meet the five universal growth needs.

Also consider what we know about the influence these experiences have on social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development.

Maybe you want to focus on how you would go about connecting with these young people or how you could develop their character strengths, executive functions, or draw on their culture and faith.

Also, give some thoughts to Howard Bath’s article and the way you may be able to use the three pillars.


Your initial blog is due by midnight on Tuesday February 27, and your follow-up posts are due by midnight on Friday March 2.

16 thoughts on “Week 6: Reflecting on Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adverse Community Experiences

  1. Reflection on Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adverse Community Experiences
    Marchia Swanson
    Belonging. When used with a person, the definition of belonging is “to fit into a specified place or environment”. Synonyms for the word “belonging” are things like; fit in, have a rightful place, or have a home. Our text explains that when people have the experience of belonging, they feel comfortable and welcome. This sense of belonging helps children feel protected, respected, and included. After watching the videos for this week’s blog, the word and the feeling of belonging resonated with me.
    Australia’s Shame showed young men who had been incarcerated in conditions that were appalling and inhumane. Their incarcerations were incredibly long, and unbelievably cruel. Those boys were deprived of respect and protection; they were mistreated by almost every adult they came in contact with during their incarnation. When they acted out, they were subjected to even more cruelty and mistreatment. How could those boys feel worthy of being included in any type of community? The video was a graphic illustration of how children who do not have a sense of belonging can also lose the other aspects of the universal growth needs, especially that of hope and purpose. Children who are hopeful and can imagine a future have a defined sense of purpose. The boys from Don Dale had difficulty just getting through their days, so they could not possibly imagine a future.
    In The Three Year Nightmare, the parents of Dean Honomichl gave him over to the state of South Dakota. Their hope was that the state could do for Dean what they were unable to do; meet his needs for support and autonomy while helping with his variety of mental and emotional issues. With each step of Dean’s journey, he lost more influence over his life. He was unable to learn from his mistakes, which caused him to continue to make more mistakes. His emotional distress in the video is obvious when he tells the guards to “just break me”. He has given up. Dean moved from one bad situation to another, until he hit the bottom. By that point, it can be imagined that very little mattered to him.
    Most of the boys who were interviewed for these videos were older; in their mid-teens. There is not really a way to know what their earliest childhoods were like, but I can imagine that they struggled, beginning at a very young age. While I do not have a specific answer as to how I would form a connection to these boys, I strongly agree with the principals that are highlighted in the Bath article. I think that one of the keys to helping these boys would have been to foster connections. Bath points out that connections involve relationships with caring adults; but that they also involve connections to a community. Connections to normalizing activities such as sport teams or youth groups can give children a sense of belonging. I think that Dean Honomichl would have benefitted from being part of a group of children that had similar issues. The video mentions that Dean was bullied for some of his developmental difficulties, specifically his Tourette’s syndrome. A support group for children that also have Tourette’s may have given him the necessary sense of normalization, and created a feeling of not being different – fitting in. In Dean’s life, he was deprived of the sense of normalcy. His parents had their own issues, and eventually he was sent away, setting him apart from his peers.
    Watching these videos was painful for me. I would like to think that things like what were shown in them do not really happen, but I am also not naïve enough to believe that. These videos represent examples of coercive practices, where the power is unevenly balanced between the adults and youth. I hope that with more research and understanding of trauma situations, we can move into more responsive situations, where trust and mutual respect are developed, and relationships help children develop that sense of belonging.

    1. I’m so glad you touched on Dean’s situation. I was so appalled by the treatment and conditions in Australia’s Shame that I focused on those boys, but Dean’s situation was bad as well. Relationships were not built nor any connections made to these children. Only drill sergeants pushing these kids to their limit to the point of the death of a female child. I recall the drill sergeant saying that if he had known that Dean had mental health disorders, “things would have been different for him.” Had they only asked? They made the assumption that Dean was just a “bad” out of control kid, without giving him the benefit of the doubt. Even after it was recognized by the director of the program that Dean was not a match for this facility, they kept him there. I feel that this is a present day issue in our education system. No one takes the time to dig deeper to find out if there is more behind their trouble student other than defiant behavior. I’ve seen the difference in students that have teachers that know how to build relationships with their students. Their rooms are their “safe place” in the school. These teachers are their “go-to” people. It makes a difference. If these kids were so bad they would probably be “bad” in all of their classes but that is not usually the case. And I definitely think that youth groups would have benefited any of these kids. Being heard and having your feelings validated gives you a feeling of being understood and valued. These kids needed that.

      1. Chris,

        Recently I was assigned a series of videos to watch for another graduate course. One of these included a Ted Talk by Colin Powell and was titled “Kids Need Structure.” I am including the link to the video for those who are interested. It was a fascinating video but when juxtaposed with the videos we were assigned to watch for TIC, I wondered what type of structures students really need to be successful. Powell discusses his experience in the army and how the structure of his ranks, cohorts, etc. was one of the most valuable experiences of his life. His time in the army provided him with a routine and ultimately, taught him the lessons of respect and accountability. On the other hand, he talked about how social structure is also so important for a child’s development. He referred back to his own childhood and explained how the people in his early life and family were part of a separate structure that also taught him the same life lessons but in a different capacity. Thinking back to “Australia’s Shame,” I wonder how the appropriate structures could be placed within the facility the boys were housed in. Clearly they need some disciplinary structure, however the bigger issue is that they are lacking the social structures to properly develop. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.


        1. Emma,
          Sorry for the late response. There is a great series on Netflix called Girls Incarcerated and this is as close to a positive structure in a disciplinary setting. These girls have group sessions, they are treated in a firm but fair manner, they are shown respect and support and want them to make better choices when they are released. They push for parental engagement and allow frequent visitations and phone calls home. They know that this is important in their success. And they are also given a “burgundy” shirt that shows that the person has improved. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and something for the other girls to try to obtain. They are given incentives and are rarely placed in a solitary confinement, which they call M.A.C. Making a Change. While they do have their issues, I consider it a place discipline where they are taught that although they are there, they have purpose and are worthy of better. You have to check it out.

    2. Marchia, 
I’m glad you mentioned the difference between the coercive and responsive relationships that were needed in these circumstances. I agree with you that Dean seemed to be lacking that connectedness and sense of belonging, which probably contributed to the issues that his parents described in his early life. He was also denied those opportunities to develop these skills when he was “given over” to the state. It was truly a power struggle evident between the coercive adults and the adolescents. Instead of working towards rehabilitation, Dean was subjected to more trauma that didn’t provide opportunities to learn, grow or change. Sadly, Dean got stuck in the vicious cycle of action and punishment, missing out on opportunities to reflect on what can be done differently to impact his future positively.

    3. Marchia,
      One point that really stood out to me as an Ah-ha! in your response was when you mentioned that when children don’t have belonging, they can also lose their sense of hope and purpose. While it makes so much sense, I didn’t think of it in that way.

      I also agree that some sort of support group for Dean would have been beneficial, rather than the situation he was in. I think that it would be very hard to have something such as Tourettes, that is out of your control, and have people making fun of you, so for Dean, knowing that he was not the only one with this condition would have helped make connections but also learn how to appropriately cope.

  2. Watching the videos was a painful eye-opener to the way that children were/are being treated in the juvenile justice system around the world. The system that should be trying to rehabilitate and help to transform our troubled youth into contributing members of society, are applying brute force and cruel punishment. To use the means of fear, humiliation, and other dehumanizing abusing procedures is horrid. I found that the juvenile justice system in Australia’s Shame was cruel and inhumane, and just difficult to watch without breaking into tears. From the living conditions at Don Dale Youth Detention Center to the torturous ways in which the boys were treated was barbaric. The boys said that they felt like they were treated like animals. Their emotions spiraled from fear to depression to loneliness to anger. As stated in the documentary, they were pushed to their breaking point. They were deprived of natural necessities to live. No contact with another person for 23 out of 24 hours in solitary confinement for up to 15 days straight. No running water, no natural light, no fresh air, and wreaking of urine and feces. This not only deprived them of basic physical and psychological needs, but it further damaged already troubled kids. Their retaliatory method has proven to be unsuccessful as these boys continue to return to a place where they feel mistreated. Not only are these children’s growth needs of belonging, achievement, autonomy, contributing, and hope and purpose unmet, but due to the young age at which these boys are being sent through the juvenile justice system, their brain development is also affected. We learned that when growth needs are disrupted, the use of character strengths, executive functions, and relationships are under-developed, causing negative outcomes. These boys did not receive responsive relationships with supportive and caring adults. They had no self-control or coping skills and were stripped of any hope and purpose they may have had. We saw this in the actions in the surveillance video. They did not know how to express their feelings…well actually maybe it was appropriate given these boys were sometimes left distraught after some of the actions of the guards. These kids had no sense of community and no way to develop a sense of autonomy. How can a child, at the age of 10 be sent to a facility such as this, let alone any human being? It is hard to fathom that this was going on and may still be going on. If these children’s ACE scores were not high before they were sent to these detention homes and/or boot camps, they certainly were increased while being there. This too is scientific evidence that exposure to early adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children, affecting impulse control, critical learning, and the way that children respond or react in situations. These children are also more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. Even if the child doesn’t engage in high-risk behaviors they are still more likely to develop health issues, therefore this childhood trauma can affect health across a whole lifespan.
    I believe the best way to work with these boys would have been through a more restorative practice. Using The Three Pillars of safety, connections, and coping would have been an effective way to reach these troubles kids. In this way you can implement a process or curriculum for developing character strengths, executive functions, and/or draw on their culture and faith. Much like a few of the movies on the list given for this week, (I haven’t seen them all) these adolescents found an adult that cared and build a positive relationship with them and helped them to find ways to cope with their issues. They were able to begin healing. This, in turn would also build resiliency so that they are able to face adversity and challenges and thrive into adulthood.

    1. Chris,
      I think you explained the dilemma well that I was facing when watching these movies. You mentioned that the system that should be focusing on rehabilitation and transforming these youths into contributing members of society. I wholeheartedly agree and think this is the biggest piece of the puzzle that is missing when we think of challenging students. It is easy to get wrapped up in the punishment or consequence, but to look at the “inside kid” and find a restorative point to focus on is going to solve (or at least help) the issue, rather than mask it or make it worse. Unfortunately, you were right that these children’ ACE score was probably even higher after being through the “justice system”. I think your highlighted approach to character strengths and the three pillars was explained beautifully in working towards that rehabilitation.

    2. Chris,

      I love that you looked at the situation and related it back to how the brain development is disrupted. While I am fascinated with how the brain works, it wasn’t my first instinct to think of how the situation this boys were in affected the brain development. Like you said, it affects so many functions of the brain, which then leads to a multitude of other issues. I wonder what their brain scan/MRI (?) would look like compared to a normal functioning teenager? I am sure it would be abundantly clear that there was a disruption in development. I think it is important to always remember that behaviors don’t come from nothing, there is usually a reason or a catalyst, wether it is the approach/avoidance, or just reacting, there is a reason. There was a reason the boys exploded emotionally when they did, and they had every right to.

  3. Emma Florek
    Reflection – Week 6

    Watching the assigned videos this week was painful. There were times where I had to pause the footage to process what I had just seen. In “Australia’s Shame” and “Three-Year Nightmare,” it was obvious that the boys being held in isolation at each facility were driven to the point of solely using their survival brain because of the brutal treatment they endured. All executive functions as well as their emotional and logical brains were not capable of being used whatsoever because of the amount of time spent in solitary confinement. The boys’ perceived negative behaviors were purely reactive – an obvious symptom of the amygdala being hyper-alert. Repeated and prolonged isolation of these individuals gave them absolutely no social support which negatively impacts healthy brain development. All I could think about was when we constructed a brain in class and how we consistently found that social support was the basic foundation of a healthy brain.

    Nearly every toxic stress behavior outlined in our text was exhibited by the boys in both films, but especially by Dean in “Three-Year Nightmare.” Not only did he have problems with authority, he also ran away from home, suffered from alcohol abuse and had poor peer relationships at school. I tried to pay attention to how many ACEs Dean had experienced by the age of 14. While he was not abused or neglected, he did have a history of mental illness, substance abuse and instability within the home. As far as I could tell, he had a total of three. Although he didn’t have an alarming amount of ACEs, his isolation in the juvenile justice program coupled with his past experiences acted as catalysts for his frequent amygdala hijacks. Had I been involved as an adult in the situation, I likely would have acknowledged Dean’s character strength of perseverance in being in solitary confinement and perhaps even bravery in trying to stand up to the guards in his cell or running away from home to escape his adverse experiences.

    Physically, the boys in both videos were confined to extremely small cells where they faced limited activity, access to sunlight and even dehydration. I can only imagine how that kind of treatment and lack of physical activity would hinder one’s physical development. In watching both videos, I didn’t find evidence of any resources available to the boys to meet any of their universal growth needs. To me, it seemed that because of the amount of time spent in isolation and lack of social contact, the boys had absolutely no sense of belonging or autonomy. They had absolutely no control over their treatment, the decisions that impacted them as “inmates,” or their surroundings. To me, it felt like if I was in that situation, I would feel utterly trapped and hopeless with no sense of purpose.

    I wanted so badly for a guard, counselor or any adult in the situation to approach the boys from a place of compassion by validating – or at least trying to understand – their feelings and behavior rather than punish them or treat them like caged animals. There didn’t seem to be any consideration about the boys’ backgrounds when assigning punishments. I was most disturbed when the Australian facility guards called an enraged boy an “idiot” and simply laughed at his outburst when he escaped from his cell and started to destroy property. Prior to taking this course I would have been just as upset watching that footage, however, now I realize how important the adult’s connection with the child in the situation would have been. I would have tried to connect to the boys using a script to de-escalate the situation. The whole time, I just wanted to know what the boys were thinking about in those scenarios and hear more from their perspectives.

    The footage in both videos tied in well with Howard Bath’s article about the three pillars of trauma informed care, especially since he was interviewed in “Australia’s Shame.” When I first read the article, I didn’t understand how only three “pillars” were needed to create a safe atmosphere for victims of trauma. As teachers, I think we are constantly trying to do so much to protect and help our students that it can see like there are an overwhelming amount of things to do to provide them with a safe environment. Since reading, I find it easier to approach this subject when thinking about safety, connection and coping.

    Our primary role as teachers is to keep students safe. I know that the physical safety of my students is critical, but their social and emotional safety is equally as important to me. At the beginning of the year, we establish “people rules” for the class as a group. These are expectations that we deem necessary to create a respectful, safe environment. This year, my students agreed on the following: “be kind, be honest, and communicate clearly.” These policies have fostered trust amongst my students which I think is integral in creating a safe space in my classroom. When reading about the developmental relationships in the “connections” section of the article, I felt like my practices align most closely with the concept of “progressive complexity.” The climate of my classroom is totally dependent upon the relationships within it. I try to build strong, respectful relationships with all of my students, however, also want them to become independent learners who are capable of completing increasingly more complex tasks without my constant supervision or assistance. Because my students take art for a full year, I find it necessary to build strong connections so that my classroom operates efficiently. Pillar III centered on “coping.” I was particularly interested in excerpt about active listening because I am trying to use this skill more in my classroom. My goal in being an active listener is to help students understand their own emotions and reactions they may experience in my room – whether it be during positive times or negative, stressful ones. For me, this is a work in progress, because there are times where I get distracted from being an active listener or I try to give unsolicited advice or create a solution to the problem when really, all the student needs is for someone to actively listen to their needs.

    1. Emma, it is so evident that you are one of those teachers who just know how to build positive relationships with their students. You care, you listen, you respect and you support. You don’t make excuses but you realize the difference a simple gesture makes to your kids. It is so important to discuss expectations for your students as well as their expectations of you. You seem to have a great rapport and way of making your kids feel safe. Kudos to you. 🙂

    2. Emma,
      When you said that you were waiting for one of the guards to approach any of the boys from a place of compassion, I was right there with you. While it was hard watching the situations that these boys were in, I think it was just as difficult watching the adults. The only time in either of the videos that one of the adults spoke kindly to the boys was when they showed the guards using the mechanical restraint chair, with the boy strapped in and wearing the spit hood. The guard actually said that the boy was doing well. I almost lost it! The child was strapped to the chair by his arms, legs, and neck; and was wearing a hood over his head, and the guard gave him a compliment! Can you imagine what the boy was thinking in that situation? I know what I was thinking!!
      Compassion and understanding can go such a long way when dealing with children. Your blog shows that you use those two traits consistently in your classroom . Treating your students with respect while helping them become independent learners is a great way to build those relationships that your students need.

  4. The Three-Year Nightmare and Australia’s Shame were difficult videos to watch. I was most alarmed when I saw the year for each of these movies, to know how recent they are and how prevalent this type of behavioral “management” system is makes it even more difficult to stomach. The experiences that these children went through undoubtedly had an impact on their growth needs and development. Belonging focuses on people feeling valued, important and protected (Laursen, 2018). After watching these horrifying videos, it is clear that the children were lacking a sense of belonging, especially in their incarcerated state. Many of the boys were subjected to prolonged periods of isolation, much longer than legally allowed in some instances. The boys suffered from a lack of belonging and connectedness, with no room to develop or practice this skill. Laursen (2018) shares that a caring relationship with a positive adult is the strongest protective factor a young person can have, in which the young people showcased in these videos were severely lacking. The adolescents in these videos were also lacking the resources necessary to cope with their challenges and achieve their goals. Rather than supportive relationships and chances to learn and master the world around them, these children were often subjected to solitude and treated harshly with tear gas, physical abuse, electric chair, and verbal abuse from the employees of these facilities. The chance to develop autonomy and regulate emotions and actions was also stripped of these adolescents, as they were often denied even the simplest request of asking why or how long they would be in solitude. There was no chance of taking responsibility for actions because the children were punished brutally on multiple accounts for even just being in the facilities. Unfortunately, the ability to contribute to others and the community was also lacking opportunity and resources for these young adolescents’ time while incarcerated. Not only were the boys unable to work together for any sense of community, but were often ALL punished for one’s actions, such as the incident with the tear gas in Australia’s Shame. Finally, the sense of hope and purpose was most certainly lacking. Although we learned that there are many different ways to find hope or purpose, with the environment and unpredictability of chronic stress present in these adolescents’ lives, there were little to no resources available to develop and foster this growth need. Arguably, for the children who needed a sense of hope and purpose most to change their outlook on their, were denied opportunities to foster this growth need. Existing in an environment that provides little to no opportunities or resources to develop and foster the 5 universal growth needs provided little hope for a future for these young adolescents.

    It seems to me that the opportunity to develop social and emotional, intellectual and physical developments would serve these children with great benefits. However, since much of the “rehabilitation” time was spent keeping these children in isolation with limited basic needs, all of these areas of development were affected. Physically, the brain development that these boys were experiencing was undoubtedly impacted by the constant state of the stress hormone, cortisol. The children were experiencing a constant “amygdala hijack” due to the chronic, unpredictable environment they were in. Emotionally, aside from experiences the adversity of abuse, neglect, and lacking of basic needs, the adolescents also lacked a community and supportive relationships to help turn these cases of stress into tolerable stress.

    Understanding the nature of these situations being solely deficit-based, I would be eager to take the stance of developing the character strengths within these children and move towards an outlook of healing. I would draw on the character strengths within the children to rehabilitate their mindset into a growth mindset and understand that they are capable of change. I think fostering this growth mindset and drawing on the character strengths would offer opportunities to also develop the universal growth needs, especially hope and purpose. Bath’s three pillars also connect well with the growth mindset and focus on character strengths. Safety, connections, and coping are all three essential ingredients that were lacking in the two videos that showcased children and teens facing adversity. Utilizing safety, a basic need identified by Maslow, adolescents are able to move past the immediate state of being alarmed and into a safe space to begin to work towards healing. Connections would focus on building relationships between supportive adults, as well as between the adolescents. Bath (2015) shares, “Children have a strong drive to be normal, to feel normal, and to be treated as normal” (p. 7). I think relationships drive this normalcy and opportunities to foster these connections is necessary. Finally, coping is an important skill for children who have faced adversity. Having the ability to control reactions and “deal with” the stress present in their lives will take time and practice. Supportive relationships and a caring environment is crucial to develop these skills.

    1. Kirsten,
      I was like you, shocked and disturbed by the dates of publication of these videos. I hope that someday we can move beyond behavior management and into the realm of behavior interventions. Your point about coping being an important skill for children can be expanded to include not just children who have faced adversity, but all children. I keep thinking back to our class discussion about the punishments that we received as children. I remember being punished, but I also remember that once that boundary was set, I rarely crossed it a second time. Because I had a very loving and supportive relationship with my parents (still do!), I had the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and learn coping. This created a strong sense of normalcy for me and my brother.
      I think that coping can also apply to the situation you mentioned when all the boys in the isolation unit at Don Dale were subjected to the tear gas, even though only one of them was causing the disturbance. That may have been the part of the video that bothered me the most. Those boys were just trying to cope with the situation, and they were forcefully dragged from their cell and hosed off outside. How do you cope with a situation that you have absolutely no control over? Those boys must have felt hopeless, as well as helpless. The loss of autonomy just added to their already overflowing bucket of toxic stress.

    2. Kirsten,

      I did not consider Maslow’s theories when writing my original posts but appreciate that you did in connecting to the Howard Bath article. I try to remind my students that my first job is to keep them safe. In light of recent events, I think that is especially important to remind students of. In watching the videos, I felt like the main reason the boys felt so unsafe is because of their unpredictable environments. It made me wonder how many of my own students experience a similar situation at home. As I mentioned in a previous post, I grew up in a home where my mother’s behavior was unpredictable. You never knew what type of person was going to walk through the door. Although it is not nearly on the same scale as what we saw in both videos, I could really relate to Bath’s article and the importance of creating a safe environment for students to meet their basic need of safety. For me, it was my high school art teacher who created that atmosphere of openness and acceptance. After looking back on my post for this week as well as yours, I wonder how many of my own students are in need of those strong social relationships to help foster brain development and even more importantly, a general sense of safety.

  5. Sorry for the delayed post:

    First of all, it is just shocking that people believe that the methods used in these “correctional facilities/programs” are for the benefit of children. I firmly agree with you, Dr. Laursen, when you say society fights pain with pain. Nothing positive comes out of treating children in the ways we saw in the videos. As related to their 5 growth needs, I would like to say that none of them are being met. Belonging, achievement, hope and purpose, contribution, and autonomy, are being stripped away from these children, who need them the most.
    In the video, “Australia’s Shame” the boys were separated/isolated, which strips away any sense of contribution and belonging they had to begin with. Unfortunately there is a mindset that if we continue to take away these human rights and needs, the child will eventually cave in, and give up, but in reality, they are simply making it worse for the child, and inflicting more trauma. One of the boys in “Australia’s Shame” said that when he was left alone for so long that his mind changed, therefore when he was out, back in the community, he didn’t feel right, which ultimately leads to the boys being sent back into the jail. This is a vicious cycle, which should have been a red flag to the head of the jail or correction facility. This reminds me of the saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If the poor child has been in isolation, and lashes out, do you think isolation is helping him to regulate his emotions?! It is just infuriating to me.
    Something that stood out to me in the “three year nightmare” video was when the reporter asked Dean if he ever went to school, saw a counselor, or a psychiatrist?, and his response was no. Not only are these facilities failing to help the children with their mental health, they are making it worse by continually isolating them, and withholding education, social interaction, and many other human rights.
    One of the first things that come to mind when asked how I would connect with these children that have experienced such traumatic events, is the connections or relationships. I think that allowing these boys to create, run, and be a part of some sort of support group, would allow them to create the connections and relationships, which is vital.
    I think that Howard Bath’s article makes a great deal of sense when it comes to the three pillars, safety, coping, and connections, and correlate with the 5 growth needs perfectly. One of the things that really stood out to me was that the healing of these traumas are not often occurring through therapy, it is in the teachers, coaches, etc., that really impact the healing process. In our society today, I think it is common to think, well obviously that child needs therapy, but in reality, we need to focus on those growth needs, or in this case the three pillars and build them up, so they have something to work with and nurture to hopefully grow into a successful, fulfilled part of society.

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