Here is the final installment in our six-part series of reports from the National Summit on ACES, held May 2013 in Philadelphia.
But the conversation doesn't end here. So many Summit presenters -- who included physicians, social workers, child advocates and policy makers -- urged participants to "talk the talk" of ACEs wherever they go.
Their idea is that, eventually, everyone -- children and parents, teachers and coaches, physicians and judges, elected officials and activists -- will understand the extent of childhood trauma, its impact on future health and the best strategies for healing.
The message is simple: traumatic things that happen to us as children can hurt the way we learn and grow. Stress really can make us sick. Those early adversities can impact our ability to be good parents and workers when we're older. And it is not too late: with help, children, adolescents and adults can heal from their early experiences, learning new skills, behaviors and ways of thinking.
Partnering with Parents is one way to intervene. This bright-colored booklet, designed intentionally to resemble a smartphone app was written by Linda Chamberlain, founder of the Alaska Family Violence Project, and produced by ISF, with input from a group of national reviewers and support from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Multiplying Connections, Prevent Child Abuse America and the Scattergood Foundation.
Along with phone numbers, websites and QR codes that smartphone users can scan to link to resources, the booklet explains stress and its health consequences in plain, positive language. "If you had hard times during your childhood, it's important to know it's not your fault," the booklet advises. "Understanding how things that happened during your childhood connect to how you feel now is an important part of healing and can prevent other problems for you and your kids."
The booklet, written at a 5th-grade level, offers strategies for managing stress (deep breathing, calling a trusted friend) and ways to build connection with children, such as joining in activities they enjoy and telling them, "I love you for who you are." Building such practices among parents is one way to prevent ACEs from trickling down to the next generation.
I look forward to all the ways we will "talk the talk," keeping this life-changing conversation about ACEs alive.
Executive Director, Institute for Safe Families
|Talking the Talk:
SPREADING THE WORD ON ACES
Robert Anda, co-principal investigator of the original ACEs study, envisions a society in which all people can talk the talk of adverse childhood experiences.
"If everyone could understand [ACEs] and speak the language and understand their own lives and speak to their neighbors about it, that's going to be the real power of making things move," he told nearly 200 participants at the National Summit on ACEs, held in May in Philadelphia
For many at the Summit -- physicians, policy makers, educators and child advocates -- hearing a presentation by Anda was their own "aha" experience; now, they have made it their mission to share the understanding of toxic stress, brain development and health with their colleagues, patients, students and communities.
It's happening in Gainesville, where University of Florida College of Medicine professor Nancy Hardt tells medical students about the "cosmic lottery" that rewards some children with resilience-building experiences and supportive families while damaging others with trauma and neglect.
Hardt also takes ACEs education on the road-to community groups, churches and anyone who will listen -- unrolling local maps with "hot spots" for high numbers of Medicaid births that coincide with areas of high crime, child maltreatment and domestic violence. The maps convey the message: poverty, trauma, health and behavior are linked.
In Arizona, Marcia Stanton coordinates the Strong Families Child Abuse Prevention Program at Phoenix Child...; she provides all new clinical staff with a day-long training on the ACEs study, brain development, resilience and trauma-informed care. Strong Families partners with a local public television station for a call-in show, "Ask a Child Trauma Expert." Posters help to spread the word: "Strong Communities Raise Strong Kids" and "Childhood Adversity Can Last a Lifetime: But It Doesn't Have To."
ISF has produced a series of booklets written by Linda Burgess Chamberlain, founder of the Alaska Family Violence Prevention Project, that explain brain development, trauma and positive parenting in plain language, with graphics that resemble a smartphone app. The booklets, written at a 5th-grade reading level, emphasize practical strategies to reduce stress and boost resilience. "The Amazing Teen Brain," for instance, advises parents to "encourage your teen to try a new hobby" and "find ways to expand your teen's role in family decision making."
At the Summit, writer Jane Stevens received the Scattergood Award for Journalism for her work in spreading the word about ACEs. Stevens, who wrote her first article about ACEs in 2005, for the Sacramento Bee, created the news site ACEsTooHigh.com and the social network ACEsConnection.com, online arenas for stories, data and sharing.
ACEsTooHigh.com chronicled a high school in Walla Walla that tried a trauma-informed approach to discipline and saw its suspensions drop by 85%. Member of ACEsConnection.com share news of new projects, ask for advice and discuss new issues in their fields; membership recently passed the 1000 mark.
"Trauma-informed journalism doesn't stop at the problem; it looks to see what's being done, or not being done, to solve a problem," Stevens said.
Susan Dreyfus, president and CEO of Families International, told Summit participants that spreading the word-- especially among those who have been hurt by childhood adversity -- is key to healing. "Too many people still don't know about the ACE science. Too many people view it through a very narrow lens. Our job is plain talk so people can understand that this is a simple framework to solve society's toughest problems. Anybody and everybody has to be educated on this science."